What DC Vince Jones doesn’t know about illegal drugs isn’t worth knowing. One of six officers working in the force’s Drug Expert Witness Team, the 56-year-old has seen it all.
From low-level street dealing to international drugs cartels, DC Jones has lost count of the number of times he’s stood in the witness box.
But keeping his knowledge up to date isn’t easy and the experts must be ahead of the game if they’re to help secure convictions at court.
In the latest WMPeople he talks about everything from psychology and legal highs to the TV show Breaking Bad and even what it’s like to share a name with the country’s most famous hard-man.
How much would you say you really know about illegal drugs?
Lots! I have to make sure I know as much as possible because when I’m in court as an expert witness I could be asked anything and it wouldn’t look very good at all if I wasn’t able to answer some of the questions. It’s so important we keep our knowledge up to date – basic things such as drug trends, prices, street terms but also more complex matters such as the way they’re produced, supplied and distributed. I will never know all there is to know but I have to be able to convince the court that my knowledge is extensive and credible.
So, what exactly do you do to make sure you know all this?
Some of it comes from research and other bits come from attending training courses or conferences. We also know other experts locally, nationwide and even internationally, with whom we exchange information and knowledge. But a great deal of what we know though comes from the experience of actually doing the job. Over the years I’ve personally examined more than a thousand pieces of controlled drug evidence for court cases and over 600 cannabis factories!
Are there any health risks for you and your team when you’re examining all these drugs?
Only the obvious risks associated with the handling of chemical substances. The team wear gloves and goggles when carrying out field tests and when opening substances. If there is any doubt about hazards then we let other, specially trained and equipped teams do their job first.
How did you find yourself becoming a drugs expert witness?
I just became more and more involved with tackling drugs offences during my career as a detective in CID, to the point where I had the level of knowledge required to fulfil such a role. I’ve got a genuine interest in this area of work but it doesn’t stop at drug-related crime, I’ve got a degree in psychology and am a member of the British Psychological Society. I’m also now currently engaged in post-graduate studies, researching the areas of drug use, drug harm and the neurobiology of addiction.
I have witnessed a lot of deprivation and crime activity related to drugs.
How many drugs cases have you worked on and in how many cases have you given evidence?
I have genuinely lost count of the number of drug investigations I have dealt with but in my current role I have provided evidence for over 1,100 cases. I have given live evidence in less than 5 per cent of those but that’s a sign of the effective nature of this type of evidence. The maximum amount of time spent in the witness box for a single case was three working days at Wolverhampton Crown Court in last year.
Lots of people think ‘legal highs’ aren’t dangerous. Is that true? And are they actually legal?
The Home Office collection data shows that the vast majority of substances, believed to be legal highs, are actually controlled drugs, mostly mephedrone and related materials. These are especially dangerous because the user and/or dealer generally do not know what they are taking. Many people experiment with these substances and prepare “on-line” reports…these “Psychonauts” take lots of precautions but the average user will just “take it and see”.
You tend to see a lot of shops and stalls selling drugs paraphernalia, such as bongs – how do they get away with it? Is it allowed?
It is not illegal to sell paraphernalia but we have had successful prosecutions against suppliers when we can prove the intention of the supplier. We have exactly the same problem with suppliers of legal pharmaceuticals to the drug trade. We have prosecuted some of these “Grey Market Traders” but need more powers to act.
Lots of people have been talking about crystal meth lately because of the TV show Breaking Bad – is crystal meth a problem here in the UK?
I am glad the phenomenon that is crystal meth has mainly been confined to the TV world in the UK. There is some material in certain circles but we do not see any seizures in West Midlands area. I have only deal with one crystal meth lab in my career and that was in another force area.
Do street prices fluctuate based on police activity, such as when there’s been a massive seizure?
Funnily enough, street prices rarely change under any circumstances. What we actually see is an impact on the purity or deal size dynamics but a £10 deal is always a £10 deal. Many suppliers explore new materials to allow the “cutting” of controlled drugs when times are hard. This does bounce back when times are better. For example cocaine is now a very complex market with a variety of deal types to suit the pocket and requirements of the customer.
Finally, we couldn’t help but notice you’ve got an unfortunate namesake famous for appearing in films which often have themes of drugs and violence… how often does that get mentioned?!
It has been mentioned a few times, once in court even! It does not give me any grief and provides a little light relief. However, I am told that the actor hates it when he is mistaken for a drugs expert witness.