The letter police send to users of ‘legal highs’

By Lewis G. Parker

The Kernel has been passed a letter sent to a reader who purchased a legal high on the internet by the Metropolitan police.

The letter contains the following phrase: “[The police] recently undertook an investigation into the large-scale supply of controlled drugs via internet websites. You were identified as having ordered products advertised on one of the websites.”

The source who received it told us: “They’re basically trying to scare me.”

The letter goes on to say:

“Many families have been left devastated by the impact of illegal/legal highs on their loved ones. We would suggest that you are playing Russian Roulette with your life, your health and your career.”

The recipient of the letter said she couldn’t remember which site she ordered the drugs from, or what they were – so presumably they must have worked – but why is she receiving letters from the police about private activity?

If what she’s doing is illegal, shouldn’t she simply have got a knock at the door?

How did this happen?

Her private details were obtained from a database belonging to an online retailer. The information came to be in the possession of the Metropolitan police force after they raided its warehouse and arrested the owners.

The letter claims that most of the substances sold online are illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act, and that there could be nasty consequences to buying them.

“The purchase of these drugs is an offence,” says the letter, signed by Detective Chief Inspector Shabnam Chaudhri. “Commission of such an offence can lead to arrest, prosecution and a criminal record. Such a record could have a damaging effect on your career and job prospects.”

Not trying to scare you, then. Just a gentle warning.

Except it isn’t strictly true.

“This letter is not legally accurate as whilst ‘possession’ of controlled drugs is an offence, purchasing them is not,” said Robert Jappie, a solicitor specialising in drug laws for Release.

“Therefore, being a name on a database of customers would not be enough to charge someone with an offence.”

Police letter

Total policing

Total Policing is inspired by the Dutch pioneers of Total Football, a style of play based on fluid movement between attackers and defender

These new drugs letters are part of a Metropolitan Police initiative called “Total Policing”. A letter is clearly less invasive than a raid, although Total Policing isn’t quite as touchy-feely as simply corresponding with potential criminals.

Total Policing is inspired by the Dutch pioneers of Total Football, a style of play based on fluid movement between attackers and defenders which was pioneered by the Dutch national team in the early 1970s.

Total Policing’s mission statement promises:

“A total war on crime, total care for victims, and total professionalism from our staff.”

But Total Policing sounds more like propaganda drawn up by the marketing team at Colgate. Total care, total protection.

Given the cuts to police budgets since 2010, you might also wonder if they’re not “totally skint” – as in, the police would love to send fifty rozzers over to your house with a battering ram, but can only really afford to send a bit of strongly-worded correspondence.

This much was pretty much openly admitted when the Association of Chief Police Officers said forces didn’t have the resources to go after small-time possession cases. Still, the marketing material puts on a brave face.

Quality control

One thing you can’t see in the image above is how gruesomely pixellated the police logo is at the top of this letter. The £30,000 cost of rebranding the force clearly didn’t cover the fees for a decent designer. What with the legal goof, it all feels a bit amateur hour.