Fears about drug abuse grow after police bust 14 at Hong Kong’s Clockenflap music festival

Three Europeans among those detained as plain-clothes officers seize cocaine and cannabis

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 1:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 11:16pm

Fourteen revellers were arrested at Hong Kong’s biggest annual music festival last week for drug possession as police officers seized cocaine and cannabis in a three-day operation, it has emerged.

The arrests, which included three Europeans, came after an advance warning by police that the Clockenflap event would see plain-clothes officers among the crowds and heightened vigilance against drug-related crime.

Concern groups had urged more awareness of hidden drug abuse after an electronic music festival in September saw an attendee die and three test positive for controlled drugs.

Running over three days and nights from last Friday to Sunday, the Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival attracted tens of thousands of people to Hong Kong’s Central harbourfront to see more than 100 international, regional and local acts play across five stages as the annual event celebrated its 10th year.

A police spokesman told the Post that officers arrested 13 men and one woman – aged between 18 and 32 – for possession of dangerous drugs and possession of a Part 1 poison, which is only to be sold at authorised sellers. They also made arrests for possession of an instrument fit for smoking dangerous drugs and offensive weapons.

A police insider said half were picked up inside the venue and the rest were intercepted around the Central ferry piers, just next to the Central harbourfront.

Clockenflap festival pulls out all the stops for 10th anniversary

In one case, officers from the Police Tactical Unit (PTU) seized 1.3 grams of cocaine and a small amount of cannabis from a British man, also a Hong Kong resident, near the piers on the second day of the festival.

“Apart from sending plain-clothes officers to blend in with the crowds, PTU officers also patrolled outside the venue to prevent people bringing in drugs,” the source said.

Watch: the Clockenflap alphabet – 10 years of bands in 70 seconds

One man from mainland China who held a two-way permit allowing him to travel to Hong Kong was picked up at the piers on Saturday. PTU officers found a blue pill on him suspected to be a Part 1 poison.

An Austrian man and a Hong Kong resident from Belgium were also among those arrested. The rest were locals.

“We seized a small amount of drugs in three days, with 90 per cent of it cannabis. We believe the drugs were for their own consumption,” the source said.

Clockenflap festival to see plain-clothes Hong Kong police in bid to deter drug-related crime

In September, a 27-year-old music fan died, and three others, aged 21 to 29, were admitted to hospital during electronic music festival Road to Ultra in West Kowloon. The three tested positive for controlled drugs and police found two bags of ecstasy and the tranquilliser midazolam.

But authorities for the West Kowloon Cultural District where the event was staged said they understood the four had been sent to hospital because they suffered heatstroke.

Angela Cheng, acting superintendent of social service at the Society for the Aid and Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers, said music festivals had become a market for drugs and attracted hidden abusers and dealers.

“The arrested people were relatively young. These hidden abusers, who don’t just use drugs at music festivals, also do it in many concealed places that are hard to uncover,” Cheng said.

“The parents of the three at Road to Ultra claimed they were not aware their kids had been taking drugs. So I think society should do more to reach out to these people.”

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The number of newly reported drug abusers in the first three months of this year decreased by 25 per cent to 361 on the same period last year. Half were young adults aged between 21 and 35. The government’s Action Committee Against Narcotics has described drug abuse in this age group as “still warranting attention”.

Official figures show these new abusers used drugs for 3.2 years on average before being discovered by reporting agencies. That number was down from the 4.6 years reported last year.

Chan Siu-cheuk, principal of Christian Zheng Sheng College, a private school dedicated to reforming young drug offenders, said drug use at music festivals had a long history, and performers and organisers should step up campaigns against it.

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He said abusers often start in friends’ homes due to peer pressure and because they thought they would not get caught.

In Hong Kong, any person caught possessing, inhaling or injecting a dangerous drug faces up to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$1 million.