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'We know you're in there!' - x-ray drug powers for UK police

May order scans for swallowed drugs

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The Home Office's collection of tough-sounding but pointless laws continues to grow, despite the departure of David Blunkett mid-week. Today's addition is the Drugs Bill, which includes proposals to give police powers to order ultrasound or x-ray examinations of "dealers who swallow their drugs to conceal the evidence."

Um, should that not perhaps read 'suspects who it is thought may have swallowed drugs in order to conceal evidence'? But David Blunkett was never one to let due process delay summary judgment, and it's only been a couple of days. The Drugs Bill will also allow police to test for class A drugs on arrest, and require those who test positive to attend an assessment and follow-up appointment, toughen up penalties for dealing near schools and using children as couriers, and clarify the law on the open selling of magic mushrooms. Perplexingly, the announcement appears to suggest that selling fresh and prepared mushrooms in general is illegal, but we think we know what they mean.

The most significant measure is probably the addition of the power to test for drugs, as that will allow police to detect users who have been arrested for other reasons, and who don't have any drugs about their external person. The scans, although weird, don't sound particularly workable.

According to the draft bill the police may request a scan if they have reasonable grounds for believing a suspect may have swallowed drugs. The suspect may decline to give consent, but if they do so the judge, court or jury "in determining whether that person is guilty of the offence charged" may draw such inferences "as appear proper" from a refusal.

So if a suspect doesn't give consent there seems a reasonable chance that they'll make it more likely that they'll be convicted. The scan itself will have to be carried out by the medical profession, so will either require a cooperative local hospital (which seems doubtful) or that the police go private. Ominously, however, the bill also says it could be carried out at "some other place used for medical purposes", which could mean quite a lot, and could open up new markets for law enforcement-related medical services.

As a back-up, magistrates will also have powers to remand suspected swallowers in custody for up to eight days. Figure out for yourself why that might be, but it seems to us that loudly demanding to be held in custody might have some effect in blunting the effect of declining consent. ®

Related stories:

The Met goes psyops with bus station weapons 'detector'
Clarke's x-ray specs - police swoops, detectors for schools
Home Office stalls on weapons scanner health risks

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