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Revellers Given A Hi-tech Drugs Test

This is Gloucestershire, 14th September 2006

Hundreds of Cheltenham town centre clubbers were tested for drugs and explosives as part of Operation Wizard. Plain clothes and uniformed officers were stationed at club entrances to search and arrest drug users.

They used state-of-the-art computer technology worth £35,000 to spot-test for heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis.

More than 200 people were screened at nightclubs Que Pasa, in Clarence Street and Thirteen in St George's Road.

Screening involved taking a swab from a palm and trouser pockets.

The swab was fed into an Ion Track super computer where it was heated to 200C. Six seconds later the results were in.

Eight who tested positive for cocaine, heroin or ecstasy were taken away and searched.

No drugs were found, but police issued formal stop and search forms.

PC Andy Cook, licensing officer for Cheltenham and Tewkesbury, operated the computer.

"We were the first force to pioneer this machine, which is designed to pick up people who regularly use drugs," he said.

"It's far more effective than a brief search by door staff as people can hide drugs in discreet places like their socks.

"Often people think it's a bluff, but when the alarm goes off they soon realise it isn't.

"We find about five people in every 100 test positive for drugs and about one in 100 have drugs on them.

"But we get a tremendous response from the public as they know they're coming into a drug-free environment. They feel safer."

Out of 176 people screened on their way into Que Pasa, four tested positive for heroin.

Mark Steed, 19, from Springbank Way in Cheltenham was found with a high level of the drug on his hands.

He was searched by two officers, but found to be clean.

Mark said: "I couldn't believe it. I don't touch the stuff, but if this operation stops drugs then it's not a problem."

Traces of cocaine were found on the Que Pasa counter where the computer was being used. Staff cleaned it and testing was able to continue.

Trace elements of drugs can be found on door handles, money and bar surfaces, and can get on to people's hands.

Sarah Vancoevorden, a beauty therapist from Hatherley, took the test on a night out with friends.

"Cheltenham has a drugs problem and cocaine is becoming more popular," she said.

"I don't do drugs, but most of my friends do and there is a need for operations like this."

Que Pasa general manager Ben Jelley said: "The feedback has been positive. If you put these machines out in the community two or three times each month, the drug problem in the town would be reduced by 95 per cent."

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