Meth hidden in swings and slides in $100m seizure but Customs 'combating the syndicates'

Drug traffickers are going to new lengths to sneak their products into New Zealand.

Seven foreign nationals were arrested yesterday, charged with importing at least 100 kilograms of methamphetamine, disguised as concrete.

Hidden among swings, slides, a furniture set and garden lights, on the streets the seized meth could sell for around $100 million to $120 million. 

"That's what the police are really up against. This is a really lucrative trade and there's obviously a substantial market here in New Zealand," said Massey University drug researcher Dr Chris Wilkins.

Dr Wilkins says the international crime networks supplying meth and its precursors are growing, with Customs now seizing imports from Asia, the Middle East and West Africa. 

And despite continued warnings of psychosis, loss of income, the break up of family life, people are still getting addicted. 

"It's a stimulant, and it really seems to suit our kind of modern, busy productive times," Dr Wilkins said.

"So people want a drug that they can use to party longer, but they also want to be productive in their working situation as well. It can also be seen as a drug that is being used in construction and also things like truck driving and hospitality trade as well." 

Importing it is a risky business and manufacturers are going to new lengths to hide their product. 

Customs Investigations Manager Bruce Berry says in the latest case "the methamphetamine powder, crystalline substance, had been mixed in with gypsum within the base and construction of the umbrella stands". 

But Customs officials are working hard to keep up.

"These syndicates are changing the way they're working all the time. And Customs and Police are finding that by changing what we do we are combating the syndicates' operations who're continually evolving," Mr Berry said. 

It comes as seven foreign nationals were charged with importing meth hidden in swings, slides and garden lights. Source: 1 NEWS



Media personality accused of assaulting woman appears in court

A media personality has elected a trial by jury on assault charges they are facing. 

Source: istock.com

He appeared in the North Shore District Court this morning.

He's facing one charge of assaulting a woman with intent to injure and another assault charge.

He had previously pleaded not guilty to the charges back in July.

He has been granted ongoing name suppression through until his trial.

He will next appear in court in November.

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Man's fingers severed in samurai sword attack in Brisbane

A man has had four fingers and part of his thumb severed by a samurai sword during a fight at a caravan park north of Brisbane.

The 45-year-old suffered the injury after allegedly being attacked by a 40-year-old during a dispute at the caravan park in Aspley on Wednesday night.

The man underwent emergency surgery at a Brisbane hospital, while the alleged attacker will face Pine Rivers Magistrates Court on Thursday after being charged with grievous bodily harm.

Samurai sword. Source: istock.com

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Legalising recreational cannabis could stem NZ’s epidemic of ‘zombie drug’ deaths, Peter Dunne says

Synthetic cannabis has killed more than 40 people in New Zealand since June last year, a massive jump from the previous five years, the coroner recently reported.

One way to serve a blow to the market for the so called zombie-drug in New Zealand would be to legalise recreational cannabis, former MP and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said today on TVNZ1's Breakfast.

But the suggestion came with a caveat.

"It would certainly remove some of the incentive for people to try some of these substances," he said. "But...some of these (synthetic drugs) are so potent and so powerful that people may well feel they'll get a better high from these rather than the real product.

"While on the face of it the answer would be yes (to marijuana legalisation), I don't think it's necessarily that simple."

Cannabis and synthetic cannabis are alike in name only. The synthetic variety, often consisting of dried herbs sprayed with chemical compounds derived from old medical studies, encompasses hundreds of different strains, Mr Dunne pointed out.

Two of the most potent versions, described as up to 10 times stronger that the ones that caused a "zombie" outbreak in the US due to the way users reacted to them, have been targeted by the Government for reclassification as Class A drugs.

That would mean penalties for dealing the drugs would increase substantially, from a couple years in prison to up to 14 years.

"I don't think we ever anticipated we'd get new synthetic drugs that would lead to so much harm," NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell told 1 NEWS yesterday.

They're calling for the drug to be classified as Class A – the most harmful and dangerous. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Dunne agreed that the classification for those two strains should change, but he was sceptical that it would do anything to stem the overdose epidemic.

"They're already illegal, so this doesn't make them any more illegal," he said. "We shouldn't get carried away and assume that's going to resolve the problem...We need at the same time to be beefing up our treatment facilities to deal with the people who are suffering adverse consequences because they will continue to do so."

He also suggested putting in place "a coherent international warning system" and regulating the market for the less potent strains of synthetic cannabis - rather than continuing to outlaw all of them, pushing the market underground.

But even with those solutions, eradicating the drug altogether would be difficult because it's so easy to smuggle, he said.

Police are still trying to identify the men as they want to check on their welfare. Source: 1 NEWS

"The problem is there are hundreds of these, and there are rumours of several hundred more yet to hit the market, so this problem's not going to go away anytime soon," he said.

"If you're seeking to bring this stuff into the country, you bring it all in different bits and bobs so it doesn't look like a finished product. Who knows what's put together to give it its added bite."

But there’s a caveat to the idea, the former MP and associate health minister told Breakfast. Source: Breakfast


How Finland solved its homeless crisis while numbers increase across Europe

In 2008 Finland made a significant change to their homeless policy, making it the only country in Europe where the number of homeless people has declined.

They achieved this by shutting down emergency shelters and temporary housing and instead began renovating these dwellings into apartments.

This was on top of permanent social housing they were building throughout the country under their Housing First programme.

It wasn’t an overnight success, it was a model Finland had been working on since the 1980s with charities, NGOs and volunteers.

It was the launch of a fully funded national programme a decade ago which saw the tide turn on homelessness.

“For us it means it’s always permanent housing that’s supposed to be proved for homeless persons – always permanent instead of temporary solutions,” Finland’s Housing First CEO Juha Kaakinen told 1 NEWS.

Mr Kaakinen says emergency shelters and hostels were failing to keep up with demand and were becoming an “obstacle” to solving homelessness.

“Well it’s obvious that when you are on the street or you are living in temporary accommodation to take care of things like employment issues, health and social issues it’s almost impossible,” he says.

“But a permanent home gives you a safe place where you don’t have to be afraid about what’s going to happen tomorrow, and you know if you can take care of the rent.”

In 2008, Helsinki alone had 500 bed places in emergency shelters, now 10 years later there is only one shelter with 52 beds.

Finland’s Housing First social housing stock for those who are on low incomes or in need of urgent housing makes up 13 per cent of their total housing stock.

Under their housing policy, every new housing area must be 20 per cent social housing.

“It’s quite a simple thing in a way, it makes common sense that you have to have a home like everyone else.”

The Ministry of Social Development says right now we can’t build permanent housing quick enough. Source: 1 NEWS

Not only is permanent housing supplied to those who can’t afford a roof over their head but wrap around support such as financial and debt counselling.

The number of homeless in Finland has dropped from 18,000 to 6500 people with 80 per cent living with friends and relatives while they wait for a home.

This means there is practically no street or rough sleepers in Finland, which has a total population of 5.4 million people.

The Housing First programme in New Zealand is funded by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) across many regions including Auckland.

However, this programme is just one of a myriad of programmes that include charities and community groups.

MSD’s Deputy Chief Executive for Housing Scott Gallacher acknowledges that more housing needs to be built to address the current crisis here.

“Our optimal outcome is to have far more supply of public housing, so people can have long-term stability. The stark reality is the context in which we find ourselves in that we just cannot bring on the degree of supply of long-term housing in the time required.

“The scale of what we’ve got of transitional housing at the moment will probably reduce over time and once we have a far stronger supply of long-term homes for people that is really the optimal outcome that we’re all trying to achieve,” says Mr Gallacher told 1 NEWS.

MSD also acknowledges it needs to provide greater support for those who are homeless to end chronic homelessness.

“It’s not just about the bricks and mortar, it’s not just about the house, it’s about what sort of support are we providing families and individuals to stabilise their lives and actually be able to sustain long-term homes.”

Mr Kaakinen says there is no other way around ending homelessness but to have government involvement.

Read more from Ryan Boswell's Homeless in New Zealand series here: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Finland is the only European country that has seen a decline in homelessness. Source: 1 NEWS