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EURO GAS RACKET; Fear as gangs sell hundreds of smuggled canisters in Scots pubs.

Byline: By Paula Murray

CRIMINALS are flooding Scotland with CS gas sprays which are being flogged in pubs for as little as pounds 50.

Police fear an upsurge in attacks using the dangerous chemical weapon.

Last month, dozens of drinkers had to be evacuated from the Frankenstein theme bar in Glasgow's West George Street after a man sprayed CS gas into the air.

Underworld sources say the gang used recent European football matches as cover to bulk-buy the sprays, which are legal in some foreign countries, but banned in the UK.

Blending in among genuine fans, they smuggled the cans back into the country as they were herded swiftly through airports by police and security.

So far, they have brought in more than 1000 canisters, which are peddled in drinking dens around Glasgow.

Scots police officers carry a spray as part of their standard equipment.

When inhaled, the riot control agent causes breathing difficulties, skin irritation and the eyes to sting. It can also disorientate victims for up to 20 minutes.

A crime insider told the Record: 'I was told there are up to 1000 sprays available.

'The gang use European football ties as their cover story. They go out with travelling fans who have no idea the cans are being brought over.

'I think the sprays are coming from Amsterdam although I'm not certain. The gas is made in Germany.

'If you pack the sprays in your suitcase, the X-ray won't reveal what they are. They can be passed as deodorant or hair spray as long as nobody actually opens the cases and physically examines them.

'When a crowd of football fans are going through an airport, the authorities just want to get them on a plane and out of the country, so they don't get checked that much.

'These guys were only smuggling a few cans at a time in their luggage, but given the amount of fixtures they were going to, it wasn't too difficult to amass a stash of more than 1000.'

The insider added:'These people sell CS gas in pubs but they will only talk to you if you've got criminal connections or somebody vouches for you.

'The sprays cost 20 euros, around pounds 13, but they are being sold for between pounds 50 and pounds 100 depending on who wants to buy them and in what kind of numbers. If you buy more than one you get a bit of a discount. So the profit margins can be great.

'I believe the sprays are used as warnings when small sums of money are being owed in the drugs trade.

'They take the victim out by spraying a bit of gas,leave him or her for a moment to make sure they won't get contaminated by the substance themselves and then give the person a good kicking.

'With bigger sums they move to knives and guns.

'There are people out there who will buy the gas canisters for self-protection and will never use them.

'But there are also those who want the gas for other purposes like robberies and stuff.

'If you want to attack a person you can stand yards away and nobody will catch you.

'Obviously it will affect others as well but still, at the end, you'll get your target.

'The attack in that Glasgow pub was just a taster of what's to come, I'm certain of that. The tins are so small you can easily carry them in your pocket or handbag.

'I'm not sure if that incident is linked in any way to the bigger picture. But I'm afraid the cops might not realise what's going on.

'I think they should start looking into this pretty soon.'

Police said they are investigating the possibility that CS gas canisters are being sold illegally.

A spokeswoman said: 'We are looking into the matter.'

Police must undergo strict training before they can use CS gas sprays.

A spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police, who introduced the gas canisters three years ago, said: 'Officers can use it in circumstances where they think there's a threat of violence.'

CAPTION(S):

DEFENCE: Scots policeman; AGONY: CS gas has been used on protesters
COPYRIGHT 2004 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 14, 2004
Words:695
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