Drugs fear over customs cutbacks

Glasgow Airport could be targetted by drug traffickers if cuts in customs staff aren't reversed, according to workers who fear job losses are giving smugglers a green light.

Unions campaigning against the cuts say Glasgow is set to become a major drugs conduit for the UK, due to misguided economies imposed by the Government.

Alan Maloney, of the Crown and Public Services Association, said 292 members of anti-smuggling teams had been cut already, with another 300 job losses scheduled for l997. ‘These people are the eyes and the ears of our coastline, and the people who are bringing in this stuff are getting to know about it.‘

Maloney argues that because of the cost of drug-related crime and losses in import levies, any economies made are false. ‘You end up not only with social problems, but with a problem for the exchequer.‘ The Government has cut 20 per cent of front line staff, he claimed. while the union quotes a Mod opinion poll showing 66 per cent of the public are opposed to reductions in the number of customs officials in ports and airports.

His claims were backed by Labour MP. for Renfrew West and lnverclyde. Tommy Graham. His constituency includes Glasgow Airport and he plans to raise his concerns with Secretary of State Michael Forsyth.

‘Couriers all over the world now know that Glasgow is an easy touch.‘ he claimed. He added that he was all for increasing traffic through Glasgow Airport - ‘But drug smugglers will be thinking, ‘let‘s take a trip to Scotland‘. This is not the sort of increase in travel to Glasgow l‘m looking for.’

Glasgow has suffered serious cuts, when manpower should be increased, he added. ‘The government talks a good fight on drugs, but they are cutting the front line.‘

However, a spokesperson for the Department Of Customs And Excise denied controls were now too lax. ‘We are now working in a very different way which means you won‘t necessarily see a uniformed officer. Our officers have had more success with seizures than ever before.‘

She claimed that an 80 per cent increase in heroin seizures were signs that the battle was being won, but admitted the department couldn’t be sure whether this was merely an indication of the escalation of the drug trade.

‘lt is impossible to estimate how much is getting through. We think we are becoming more successful‘. she argued.

However customs workers are perturbed that the street price of heroin has not n'sen significantly, and tht some of that being sold in Britain is very pure - both indications that suppliers are not yet feeling the pinch. (Stephen Naysmith)

Hogmanay party needs rethink over safety

The phenomenal success of Edinburgh’s iiogmanay celebrations disguised the fact that it came dangerously close to being a tragedy, according to many people who attended the event.

The celebration attracted at least 350,000 people, but some revellers reported alarming crushes and said they had felt unsafe in the huge crowds.

One woman who contacted The List, said she had nearly been throttled by her own scarf as it became tangled, and several referred to the ilillsborough disaster in 1909 where 96 people were crushed to death in a football stadium.

The worst problems occurred in the crowd at the foot of The Mound on Princes Street, where a crash barrier was flattened. Andy Irvine, of Gilmerton in Edinburgh, said he was infuriated by reports on 1 January proclaiming the event a success.

‘Where we were it was very scary. When the ‘bells’ went, there was sheer panic as people started pushing. My girlfriend Jackie was lifted off her feet and carried away.’

She suffered a severe panic attack, Irvine said, and he saw others who were also in difficulties. ‘Another guy I saw was supporting his girlfriend who had fainted. People who fell were in danger of being crushed, and some were shouting about lllllsborough.’

‘I couldn’t see a single policeman or steward. It was a surprise to me no one was seriously injured.’ he concluded.

The safety fears have cast a shadow over the success of the event, which has quickly established a reputation as the biggest New Year celebration in the world.

Estimates of numbers vary, but the five day programme of events for Edinburgh’s iiogmanay is without rival and its popularity is proven. Calculations are expected to show that £40 million was contributed to the Scottish economy over the whole period.

With only 21 arrests and 100 minor

Fireworks: Edinburgh celebrates 1997 while (right) crowds mass in the streets

‘i-. c


accidents in such a large crowd, the organisers claimed it was a success.

However a spokeswoman for Unique Events admitted safety would have to be reassessed. “There were concerns over crowd density which we will look at for next year’s event.’

She refused to confirm that problems with a bottleneck at the bottom of The Hound had been highlighted in a survey carried out last summer. ‘The Edinburgh iiogmanay project group commissioned a safety audit, which made various reccommendations. These were followed, which is why there were no major incidents,’ she insisted. (Stephen Naysmith)

Gay men’s rights threatened by new laws

A pre-election race to crack down on criminals, including child molesters, could legitimise discrimination against gay men, according to campaigners.

Civil rights campaigners and Scottish gay activists fear that as political parties battle to be toughest on crime, homosexual men may fall victim to excessively Draconian legislation.

The Police Bill allows for the creation of a Criminal Records Agency, supplying employers with detailed information on the convictions of prospective employees. The bill is currently in the House Of Lords, but is expected to come before the Commons by February.

Jonathan Cooper, policy manager at Liberty, the campaign organisation for human rights and civil liberties, is concerned that homosexual men will be unfairly disadvantaged by the legislation.

‘A disproportionate number ofgay men are caught up in the criminal justice system, so this new law will have a clear discriminatory impact upon them and other vulnerable groups like protesters and young black men.

‘This is what happens when two political parties try to outdo each other in taking a hard line on crime,‘ said Cooper.

A second piece of legislation, the Sexual Offenders Bill. designed to combat paedophilia, requires those convicted of sex with a minor to register their address with the police. Those let off with a caution will also be required to register.

The disparity between the age of consent for heterosexuals and homosexuals means that men having consensual gay sex with under- eighteens would be listed as paedophiles. By contrast, consensual

sex is lawful with a female partner aged sixteen and above.

John Wilkes, manager of Glasgow- based HlV/AlDS project Phace West, slammed the bill, claiming it will seriously set back vital counselling and education work. Wilkes also fears that the new law could be ‘used maliciously ‘by police forces.

‘The bill legallyjustifies prejudice and stigrnatises the innocent,‘ said Wilkes. ‘People who feel at risk will be scared to come out. This heartless piece of legislation is a political device which fails to look rationally at how to protect young people.‘

Home Secretary Michael Howard is likely to try to rush the bill through Parliament before an election is called. Labour, anxious to convince the public of their law and order credentials, are unlikely to impede its progress. (Peter Ross)

Campaign targets sickness at work

Employers are being urged to tackle ill-health at work in 1991, with a national campaign pointing out some of the dangers.

The Health And Safety Commission argue that, while companies have done much to tackle safety, ill health and diseases caused by work are still a serious problem.

Each year 2.2 million people suffer ill-health which they believe is due to, or aggravated by, their work, they

point out. ‘Fewer people are being injured or

' killed in accidents at work but, what

is not such good news, is that workplaces do not seem to be healthier,’ a spokesman explained.

‘Many illnesses may not kill people, but they are a drain on the finances for employers and a cause of loss and heartache for individuals and their families.’

Television advertisements will front

a £1 .Gm campaign with adverts tackling diverse health issues including deafness at work. The H80 are offering companies information packs on avoiding health risks in the workplace.

They point out that costs to businesses include, not just compensation claims, but also hidden costs such as retraining staff or handling bad publicity. (Stephen


4 The List lO-23 Jan I997