The National Crime Agency and law enforcement partners have seized 25 tonnes of class A drugs and at least £15 million in cash during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Packages 050520rAnd the agency alone has made more than 130 arrests for serious and organised crime related offences since lockdown began on March 23.

The figures were released during a media briefing delivered by NCA Director General Lynne Owens, alongside Merseyside Police Chief Constable Andy Cooke, who is the national policing lead for crime, and National Police Chiefs Council Chair Martin Hewitt.

The whole-system fight against SOC has continued unabated since coronavirus brought huge restrictions to life in the UK a few months ago.

The £15m cash seized – which follows on from £13m in the first two months of the year – was made of up bigger seizures than usual.

Part of that total included: £300,000 cash seized alongside cocaine worth £2 million in Gravesend by the joint NCA and Met Police Organised Crime Partnership on April 14; £90,000 seized at Dover as part of an NCA investigation on May 11; and £400,000 seized as a result of Border Force activity at Dover the following day.

Our assessment is that Covid-19 restrictions have made criminal groups take additional risks in moving cash around. The closure of many cash-based businesses in recent weeks has robbed OCGs of an opportunity to stash or launder their cash making  it harder for criminals to conceal the proceeds of their crimes.     

A significant proportion of that money seized will likely have come from illicit drugs, and one thing we know that has continued, almost unaffected by Covid-19 restrictions, is the production of class A drugs – particularly cocaine in South America and heroin in Asia.

Restrictions on movement have given the NCA opportunities to target efforts upstream, and through our work with partners, attempts to smuggle significant quantities of drugs have been thwarted before creating harm to communities in the UK.

Our contribution to the international seizure of 25 tonnes of class A includes: two tonnes of cocaine seized off the coast of Panama; four tonnes off the coast of Spain and Portugal, and hundreds of kilos of heroin in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Policia seizure

Travel restrictions have meant fewer opportunities for criminals to move drugs in smaller more discreet amounts, especially through passenger traffic, which in turn means that they are having to take more risks and move drugs in bulk. 

Criminals may believe that authorities are distracted, particularly at ports, and think there is an opportunity to import larger quantities. We have shown this to be far from the truth.

The NCA and partners are seizing significant quantities of drugs at the border.

One significant seizure the NCA are investigating involved more than a quarter of a tonne of cocaine at Dover on May 5. The drugs were found by Border Force officers concealed under a load of medical dry ice, which had been described as “medical supplies” and were falsely addressed to a hospital in London.

The NCA, policing partners and Border Force have continued to seize firearms over the last eight weeks, including the recovery of significant semi-automatic weapons such as Skorpions and an AK47 assault rifle. 

Our collaborative, whole system approach is the key to this success, best demonstrated earlier this month when joint working with Thames Valley Police led to the recovery of five firearms as well as cash and other weaponry. Two individuals were arrested.

In addition, last week West Midlands Police officers executed a series of warrants and seized multiple illegal firearms. Hundreds of bullets were removed from the streets, taking away threat to life

NCA Director General Lynne Owens said:

“As criminals have adapted to the situation brought about by Covid-19, in their efforts to bring harmful drugs onto our streets and target the vulnerable, our understanding has grown and our response developed just as quickly.

“I want to thank those across policing and law enforcement who are working under some very challenging conditions to protect the public.

“Now we have to be prepared for criminals to adapt again in the recovery phase of this pandemic, and we will be.”

22 May 2020