Two men made UK legal history last week after being convicted at Maidstone Crown Court of drugs offences relating to perfectly legal substances, reports The Press Association and various news agencies.
Anthony Woodford, 23, and David Lewinson, 44, were convicted of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs after being caught in possession of 150kg of paracetamol and caffeine at Dover Docks last year.
They were spotted heading out of the UK towards Dunkirk in a white VW Caddy van on 20 April and were stopped by UK Border Agency officials the following day when they returned.
Serious Crime Act 2007
The men were arrested under the Serious Crime Act 2007. Part two of the Act came into force on 1 October 2008 and created a new statutory offence to 'encourage or assist' in the commission of a crime. The provision replaced the old common law 'inchoate' offence of incitement.
Offences are inchoate as they are deemed criminal even though no actual harm has been done; they allow the police to intervene to prevent the commission of a crime.
Under section 45 of the 2007 Act it is an offence to encourage or assist an offence, believing it will be committed. The Act also creates offences of intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence (s.44) and of encouraging or assisting offence believing that more than one will be committed (s.46).
The Act provides that those found guilty of an offence of assisting or encouraging are sentenced as if they were guilty of committing the offence that they are encouraging or assisting.
Paracetamol and caffeine not illegal
Although neither paracetamol nor caffeine are in themselves illegal substances, the prosecution were able to convince a Crown Court jury that the substances were to be 'cut' with an illegal substance, believed to be heroin, and were therefore guilty of conspiracy to supply.
It is thought the street value of heroin given the huge quantity of cutting agent could have been as high as £5m. According to the latest sentencing guidelines for category one drug offences those convicted can face imprisonment for anything between six and 14 years depending on their role in the offence.
Detective Sergeant Matt Scott works at the Kent and East Sussex Serious Crime Directorate.
"This is the first time in the UK that a successful prosecution has been made when the drug found has not itself been an illegal substance," he said.
"The prosecution was able to prove beyond doubt that the huge quantity of paracetamol and caffeine were intended to be used to cut with heroin. This has been a successful test case and therefore has set a precedent for this type of offence," he added.
It is thought the case could pave the way for further convictions in circumstances where otherwise legal behaviour can been proven to be associated with the supply of drugs.
Pair convicted for drug offence over crushed paracetamol and caffeine (The Independent)