Something to snort about

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 February, 2005, 12:00am

Picture the scene: a late-Georgian townhouse in London's stylish Chelsea district. The dinner guests sit back for some post-food banter, complimenting the meal just served by hosts Tamsin and Tarquin, a PR director and a banker.

'Lovely souffle, Tamsin.'

'And the coffee and handmade chocolates, Tarquin.'

'I'll say. And that cocaine was most boisterous.'

'It's Colombian, old boy. Fresh off the boat. I must give you my dealer's number.' With that, Tarquin pulls out his Amex platinum card and reaches for a bowl brimming with 'devil's dandruff'. This may seem like pure fantasy, but if London's new police chief is right (and he probably is), the middle classes are passing around something stronger than coffee and mints after dinner.

The odd snort of after-dinner cocaine behind closed doors may rank low on an ordinary policeman's priorities, especially with rising gun crime and the social nuisance of binge drinking. But not for Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair. He warned the middle class that casual cocaine use would no longer be tolerated. 'Cocaine-taking is becoming socially acceptable,' Sir Ian said on his first day in the job. 'People think that in certain fashionable clubs, restaurants or dinner parties it's okay to do drugs. They will soon find out it is not.'

If ever there was a free-market success story in London, it's cocaine. Priced at #70 ($1,000) a gram 10 years ago, it played second fiddle to Ecstasy. But with increased supply - fuelled by competition between gangs, especially new Kurdish and Albanian syndicates - the price dropped below #40, and consumption increased. Line per line, the tabloids ranted, cocaine is now cheaper than cappuccino.

London, and the UK in general, is awash with cocaine. Recent surveys showed 640,000 Britons admitted taking the drug last year, by far the highest take-up in Europe. Checks on toilet seats in clubs and pubs showed traces in more than half - even in the House of Commons WCs - while a recent study found cocaine on 99 per cent of bank notes in circulation in London.

Drug advisory groups questioned Sir Ian's priorities, asking whether the Met can afford to shift stretched resources away from street crime to raid a few dinner parties in Kensington.

But Sir Ian is adamant that, in the months ahead, some high-profile, middle-class coke users will get rather more than a police caution if caught. Examples will be made.

This is more substance to set tongues wagging after dinner.