A growing number of Illegal alcohol delivery services linked to organised crime gangs are operating in Scotland, police have warned.
The so-called “dial a drink” or “dial a booze” services are emerging throughout Scotland’s communities, especially in and around Glasgow.
The illicit delivery groups openly advertise on websites and social media pages, providing price lists and contact numbers for potential customers. The people running the services will then deliver the alcohol to the public outwith legal licensing hours at astronomical prices.
Politicians have said Scotland has a “dial a drink epidemic emerging”, with others branding the issue “very worrying” and police now actively targeting the illicit businesses in undercover operations after it was highlighted as “an emerging issue” in a police report.
Drinks including Buckfast, MD 20/20, cider wine and spirits are advertised and sold for at least double the price they could be bought for in a supermarket. It is an offence in Scotland to deliver alcohol between midnight and 6am.
Police have warned of the growing trend in groups delivering alcohol to the public through the night and police in Glasgow have developed a plan to tackle the problem.
Although illegal alcohol delivery services have been in operation over recent years, a senior officer in Glasgow revealed the severity and prevalence of “dial a booze” was brought to the attention of Police Scotland last year.
Police were called to an attempted murder at a house in the city, where it was discovered a “dial a booze” service had delivered to on two occasions on the night of the attack.
It has also been revealed that some of the criminal groups have delivered to properties where sexual assaults have later taken place.
Detectives are now actively targeting the groups, some of which are involved in much more serious organised crime including drug dealing, using undercover officers to call and arrange to buy alcohol.
They are also working with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (Copfs) to target the people behind the groups with proceeds of crime laws to seize their assets.
Chief inspector David Pettigrew, based at London Road Police Office in Glasgow, told STV News: “Dial a booze is essentially a trade name for a large number of these groups.
“It is the provision of alcohol to people out with legal licensing hours and conditions, may that be by phone or online contact, through for example, social media or through back door purchases at shop premises.
“You only have to look online to see how many outlets there are. It is a widespread problem and there are different levels of offender. You have your entrepreneur who will purchase large amounts of alcohol from a supermarket and sell it on at an inflated price.
“Then there are organised crime groups who buy large quantities of alcohol in bulk from cash and carries, and sometimes abroad, to sell on.
“These people have no regard for the age of the people they are selling to, how intoxicated they are, the conditions under which they are making the sale or the quantity of alcohol they are providing.
“These groups are often almost certainly involved in other criminal activities including drug dealing.”
In his annual report to the Glasgow Licensing Board last month, former Police Scotland chief constable Stephen House revealed illegal “dial a booze” delivery services were an “emerging issue in Scotland”.
The report, which was laid before the city council last week, says that in “some instances the operators can be linked to serious and organised crime groups.”
Two people were arrested in Glasgow last month in connection with allegedly running one of the delivery services. A 36-year-old man and 37-year-old woman were detained in connection with a range of alleged offences.
It is the first time police in the UK arrested anyone over the alleged illegal selling alcohol throughout the night. A report was sent to the procurator fiscal on the matter.
Ch inp Pettigrew added: “What brought it home to us was last year there was an attempted murder at a property where it transpired a so-called dial a booze service had delivered alcohol to twice that night.
“It has also been brought to our attention that a number of sex crimes have been reported at properties where these services had delivered to.
“We have now developed a plan to tackle this problem. Test purchasing operations in which children enter licensed premises to buy alcohol have been a regular feature for some time.
“However, we are now carrying out these test purchasing operations on “dial a booze” services using police officers. They make the call and then collect a delivery.
“A number of provisions have to be put in place before we are able to do this, as they are essentially surveillance operations, but it is one aspect of what we are now doing to tackle the issue.
“We are also working in tandem with our colleagues at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in order to target these offences as lifestyle crimes.”
Ch insp Pettigrew said this will allow the police and prosecutors to use proceeds of crime laws against offenders to seize assets and hope Police Scotland have developed a strategy that others can use.
Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “As if Scotland’s relationship with alcohol wasn’t bad enough, we now have a dial-a-drink epidemic emerging.
Many people may be tempted to dial up if they run out of vodka or Buckie in the wee small hours, but these dubious outfits are breaking the law by delivering after midnight.
These groups have also been linked to organised crime and its now time for Police Scotland to launch a crackdown before the situation gets out of control.
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes MSP said:Alcoholism and binge drinking are still huge problems in this country and having unregulated services selling alcohol illegally is very worrying.
“These services appear to break the law on many levels but Im particularly concerned that underage drinkers may be using them to buy alcohol.
“Officers will have a difficult task ahead of them tracking down the culprits if they are operating on social media. At the same time, Im pleased to hear of the work Police Scotland is doing to stamp them out.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: This is an operational matter for Police Scotland, who work in partnership to agree local police priorities, and we welcome any action Police Scotland is taking to reduce violence in our communities. Licensing decisions are a matter for the local licensing board.