Drugs turf war behind rise in violence in Highlands, says top police officer
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Violence in recent months has been sparked by “an internal power struggle between drug dealers” in the north rather than more narcotics and dealers, according to Chief Superintendent Rob Shepherd.
Speaking exclusively to Highland News & Media, the top cop in the Highlands and Islands moved to reassure locals that such violence was largely contained within the local underworld.
Fears have been voiced that the operations of county lines drugs gangs – a practice of big city gangs flooding other areas with drugs, establishing local bases and using often vulnerable young people to carry, store and deal for them – are being ramped up.
Ch Supt Shepherd said he understands that concern but argues there is no evidence to suggest there has been a general upsurge in violence in the north.
His basic point is that violence is concentrated among “drug dealers” – and “none of that poses a threat to the public”.
But he stressed the force does have a plan that is “robustly being carried out by policing to curtail that violence, to stop that violence and stop the individuals involved in it”.
Ch Supt Shepherd said: “One of the things that people have talked about a lot at the moment is drugs-related violence.
“That has been something that has taken up a lot of my thinking, a lot of my time and a lot of my team's time. That causes fear and worry in the communities and I've talked to local MPs who have brought me the concerns of their constituents.”
Asked if those concerns were out of proportion to the threat posed, he replied: “I don't believe it is proportionate to the threat that is likely to be faced by normal members of the community. We are not seeing – and I can categorically say this – we are not seeing an increase in drugs-related violence in the Highlands and Islands, we are not seeing an increase of drug dealers.
“What we are seeing playing out is, on the whole, an internal power struggle between drug dealers, which is showing itself in a number of violent episodes, over the last three months.”
Ch Supt Shepherd insisted: “Although I fully understand the fear that seeing it in the newspaper or on the TV or on the street might cause, the public can be reassured that there is a plan and that it is being aggressively and robustly carried out by policing to curtail that violence, to stop that violence and stop the individuals involved in it.
“But that is not a symptom of more drugs [present] because I think I'm right in saying that we've seen less drugs deaths this year across the Highlands and Islands than in previous years.
“And we're not seeing an increase in regular drug users or crimes driven by low-level drug taking. This violence is a symptom of, as I say, internecine conflict between drug dealers.”