The Designer drug Spice synthesised just 15 years ago by a mysterious, some would say rogue, chemist Dr Zee, from the safety of Amsterdam has taken a grip on many of Britain’s Homeless.
Cheap and relatively plentiful, the drug is highly addictive and has already proven to be a killer in more ways than one.
Greater Manchester Police are now launching a concerted operation against its possession and trade in Manchester City Centre where many of the region’s homeless gravitate.
That was the case for 23 -year-old Ashton man, Daniel Smith who lost his life to fellow homeless men, one from Denton, who were high on the drug early last year and attacked him, beating him to death.
But that tragedy did nothing to diminish the drug’s popularity and Greater Manchester Police’s city centre neighbourhood policing team is now taking action.
Spice dealers in the city centre are being targeted by both undercover cops and high visibility uniform patrols, the crackdown is part of a wider operation to tackle antisocial behaviour and crime in and around Piccadilly Gardens.
The police action is part of Operation Mandera, and it comes in response to a rise in incidents relating to the psychoactive substance known as Spice.
Twenty two arrests have been made in the past week for various crimes, including six for suspicion of possession of Spice with intent to supply. Two of these six arrests for possession of Spice with intent to supply resulted in charges.
Since 13th March, officers dedicated to the operation have arrested:
• Seven men on suspicion of possession of drugs and/or psychoactive substances with intent to supply
• A man wanted for a series of robberies and four men wanted for other matters
• Two men in possession of weapons, including a knife and an imitation firearm
Operation Mandera was launched in 2013 to tackle antisocial behaviour and crime in and around Piccadilly Gardens. Since then, 44 people have been jailed for a combined total of over 90 years for dealing cannabis and 37 dealers have also received Criminal Behaviour Orders, banning them from entering the Piccadilly area.
Inspector Phil Spurgeon from GMP said: “Spice has recently added to the challenge that we and our partners face in tackling the vulnerability, crime and antisocial issues that affect the city centre’s communities.
“We cannot allow a situation to develop where Spice takes root in Manchester city centre, especially as some of those we have caught dealing have been found with weapons. It is also concerning that recent testing has shown the presence of substances which leave users in a vulnerable catatonic state, often requiring medical assistance.
“Our multi-agency approach to tackling Spice dealing sees us continue to work with a number of partners across the city, such as Manchester City Council’s rough sleeper team, outreach teams and local charities. We are also looking at how we can best share information with and support the North West Ambulance Service and the NHS.
“We are dedicating more resources to this issue but need the continued support of the community in reporting suspicious incidents through 101, or 999 in an emergency.”
Spice was available over the counter until the middle of last year when it was outlawed in the Psychoactive Substances Act of May 2016.
It was still still legal when Daniel’s murder took place and the murder trial of the men who killed hime the court heard that the drug played a part in the Ashton man’s tragic death.
Spice is one of the brand names for a group of drugs known as “Synthetic Cannabinoids”.
It appeared first in the early 2000’s marketed as “Herbal Incense” or “Herbal Smoking Blends”, the drug is usually made up of shredded plant material, which is sprayed or soaked with the synthetic cannabinoids.
Flavours such as blackcurrant, strawberry or coffee are added to give extra marketability.
Before being outlawed, the drug was pitched as a legal alternative to cannabis and was said to produce a similar high. Spice contains synthetic cannabinoids that work in a comparable way to those that naturally occur in marijuana, such as THC.
Whilst users report similar effects to those produced by marijuana, others also indicate side effects that can include extreme anxiety, confusion, paranoia and hallucinations.
The jury in the case of the Daniel Smith murder heard how a 16-year-old that helped the killers cover up their crime later told police that “I was spiced out of my mind.”
Packets carried a “Not for human consumption warning” exploiting a legal loophole and were sold by ‘Head stores’ which mushroomed in towns and cities across the UK until they were outlawed by the recent legislation.
Since the introduction of legal highs began at the beginning of the century up to 129 people are reported to have died across the UK as a result of taking the products.
Friends and supporters gathered on a bitterly cold Friday evening in January this year to honour the memory of tragic Daniel Smith.
The group consisted of friends of Daniel’s and members of the Street Support Salford Group who help homeless and rough sleepers in Salford and Manchester.
They met at New Bailey Street, Salford at 7pm, close to the railway arches, near to where Daniel met his death at the hands of two drug fuelled killers.
Two men Luke Benson, originally from Sale and Adam Acton, from Denton, both 25, were said to be high on Spice when they carried out the killing. They were sentenced to 21 and 22 years imprisonment in August last year.
All three were living in an encampment underneath the railway arches.
Street Support Salford organiser Angela Barrat who organised the vigil remembered Daniel as “A normal lad who liked Manchester United, hanging out with his friends and having a drink at Week-ends.
“Just an ordinary kid who had his life in front of him, which was sadly taken away because he was homeless.
“As a mother myself I blame the people who had a duty of care for these young homeless people, not one should be living on the streets ~neither mind Victorian arches.
She added: “We have returned to dark age Britain.”