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Introduction of minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland raises fears over smuggling and moonshine

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minimum alcohol pricing

Wine, whisky and beer shops in the north of England are preparing for an influx of Scottish drinkers looking to pick up cheap booze after Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce minimum alcohol pricing.

Fears have been raised that alcohol “smugglers” will now make regular trips across the border to take advantage of prices in England, or start producing unlicensed or counterfeit drinks.

In a bid to reduce alcohol-related harm, the Scottish government has increased the cost of low price, high strength drinks that typically appeal to problem drinkers.

Under the new rules, alcoholic beverages cannot be sold for less than 50p a unit, meaning the price of many stronger drinks will be most likely to rise.

By way of example, the price of a three-litre bottle of cider containing 7.5% alcohol will increase from £3.50 ($4.78) to £11.25.

Critics of the plan have suggested the new pricing regime could push poorer problem drinkers to switch to new psychoactive substances such as Spice, which have become a significant problem among homeless people and other vulnerable communities in the UK.

Other detractors have noted that the concept of minimum pricing is regressive, arguing that it will hit poorer drinkers hardest.

Speaking with the Telegraph yesterday, Christopher Snowdon, Director of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “I would say that Scots will be hopping across the border to buy alcohol that is, in some cases, less than half price.

“As with booze cruises to France, some will be doing it legally for their own consumption and others will be doing it to sell illegally in Scotland.

“A large and legal online business is likely to emerge to satisfy demand and there is nothing the SNP can do about it. This is their folly and they will have to live with the consequences.

“For those who live a long way from the English border, we may see a growth in home brewing and home distilling. A rise in drug use is also on the cards as people use substances such as Spice as a substitute for cheap alcohol.”

Echoing Snowdon’s thoughts, the Scottish Beer and Pub Association has warned that minimum pricing will encourage alcohol smugglers to regularly travel over to England to fill up their vans with cheap booze, in much the same way as Norwegians currently do in Sweden and other European countries.

In a statement issued in February, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said: “There is a real concern that the implementation of a minimum unit price provides a significant incentive to trade alcohol illicitly.”

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UK ticket touts who fleeced Harry Potter and Ed Sheeran fans caged for six and a half years

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UK ticket touts who fleeced Harry Potter and Ed Sheeran fans

Two British ticket touts who made millions of pounds by ripping off fans of Harry Potter, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift were yesterday jailed for a total of six and a half years following a trial at Leeds Crown Court.

Peter Hunter, 51, was handed a four-year jail term while David Thomas Smith, 66, was sentenced to 30 months behind bars after the pair were found guilty of fraudulently and dishonestly buying and reselling tickets for high-profile music and entertainment events.

Hunter and Smith are said to have raked in at least £11 million ($14.1 million) while running their BZZ Limited company, through which they purchased and sold on hundreds of tickets at hugely inflated prices to fans desperate to see their favourite artists and shows.

The pair, who were found guilty of committing their offences between 2010 and 2017, brought in a net profit of £3.5 million over the final 32 months of their fraud alone.

As well as selling customers overpriced and sometimes invalid tickets, the court found the men had also prevented thousands of people from getting hold of tickets at face value by buying up huge quantities to sell on at a massive profit.

Both men were found guilty of three counts of fraudulent trading and one of possession or control of an article for use in fraud.

A National Trading Standards investigation into Hunter and Smith revealed the pair used a number of dishonest and fraudulent tactics in order to purchase large quantities of tickets from primary ticket providers such as Ticketmaster, Eventim and AXS.

Speaking after sentencing, Lord Toby Harris, Chair of the UK’s National Trading Standards organisation, commented: “This is an important milestone in the fight to tackle online ticket touts who fraudulently buy and resell tickets to thousands of victims to line their own pockets.

“Today’s sentences send a strong message to similar online ticket touts: these are criminal offences that can lead to prison sentences.

“I hope this leads to a step-change in the secondary ticketing market, making it easier and safer for consumers buying tickets in the future.”

In June of last year, Britain’s national fraud reporting centre Action Fraud launched an awareness-raising campaign in which it appealed to music and sports fans to be on their guard against unauthorised ticket sellers ahead of the busy summer period.

The agency said it had received 4,755 reports of ticket fraud in the 13 months to the end of April last year, noting that victims across the UK had lost more than £1.6 million to ticket scammers over that time.

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Airbnb expands anti-human trafficking partnership with US NGO Polaris

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Airbnb expands anti-human trafficking partnership

Airbnb has stepped up efforts to prevent rental properties being used by human traffickers by expanding its partnership with US anti-trafficking charity Polaris.

In February 2018, the online accommodation marketplace’s Global Head of Trust and Risk Management Nick Shapiro told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the website had joined forces with Polaris to stop traffickers who sexually exploit vulnerable women and girls from using the properties it rents out.

At the time, Shapiro said Airbnb would work with Polaris to stop its properties being used as “pop-up brothels”, and train members of its staff on how to spot the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Now, having been faced with repeated criticism for failing to tackle human trafficking, Airbnb has announced that the partnership between the two organisations will be strengthened as they endeavour to eradicate trafficking crimes across the world.

The expanded tie-up will see Airbnb and Polaris offer enhanced training to Airbnb employees, property owners and guests, which will be provided both physically and online.

Airbnb said it has worked with Polaris, which aims to tackle and support the victims of sex and labour exploitation in North America, to establish a robust training curriculum for Airbnb’s customer support agents, and develop protocols to work with law enforcement agencies.

The two organisations have also designed new methods to better flag possible exploitation on Airbnb before it happens, and convened a range of companies and local anti-human trafficking experts to explore new areas of collaboration to strengthen the private sector’s efforts in combating trafficking.

As part of the new training, company employees, property owners and guests will learn about the cause of human trafficking, how to spot signs that exploitation may be taking place, and what action to take should they have any suspicions.

In a statement, Nancy McGuire Choi, CEO of Polaris, said: “Human trafficking is an incredibly complex issue that does not lend itself to quick and easy answers.

“The depth of Airbnb’s commitment is exactly what is necessary to make a real dent in the scope of this global tragedy.”

Last September, Airbnb unveiled a new online portal through which law enforcement officials can request information about users of the short-term property rental service.

The company said the portal was designed to complement the work it does daily to keep its property owners, guests and wider communities safe.

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DEA launches crackdown on Mexican ‘super methamphetamine’ distribution hubs in major cities across US

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DEA launches crackdown on Mexican ‘super methamphetamine’ distribution hubs

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has announced a new operation that will see investigators look to eliminate methamphetamine “transportation hubs” across America and block the distribution of the deadly drug.

Operation Crystal Shield will see the DEA target hubs to which large shipments of methamphetamine are trafficked before being broken up and sold onto dealers across the United States.

The agency said it has identified the locations of eight of these hubs, noting that it will concentrate its efforts on major smuggling operations based in Atlanta, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Phoenix and the St Louis Division.

These locations are said to have accounted for 75% of all methamphetamine seizures made in the US last year.

The DEA noted that almost all methamphetamine currently sold in the US comes through major ports of entry along its southern border having been made in industrial-scale labs in Mexico.

Much of the methamphetamine produced in these labs is almost 100% pure and is a far cry from old-fashioned so-called “shake-and-bake” version of the drug that used to be widely made in domestic US labs.

The huge volumes of Mexican “super meth” flooding into the US has resulted in the price of the drug falling dramatically over recent years.

Once smuggled into the US, increasingly in liquid form to avoid the attention of law enforcement agents, large shipments of the drug are transported across the country by tractor trailers and personal vehicles to the transfer hubs the DEA is targeting.

In a statement announcing the new crackdown, DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon said: “Methamphetamine is by far the most prevalent illegal drug being sold on the streets of our community, and therefore warrants a focused plan of attack.

“Meth trafficking makes up more than 60% of the federal drug cases we prosecute in the Western District of Missouri.

“Operation Crystal Shield provides a strategy to stanch the flow of methamphetamine being smuggled into our state by the Mexican cartels.

“If we can reduce the supply of methamphetamine, we can reduce the violence and other criminal activity associated with drug trafficking.”

Earlier this month, authorities San Francisco announced the opening of a new “drug sobering centre” primarily aimed at methamphetamine users suffering from the side effects of taking the substance.

In January, a study published by JAMA Network Open revealed that use of methamphetamine is rocketing across the US, with the number urine samples testing positive for the drug rising from about 1.4% in 2013 to around 8.4% last year.

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