Instagram drug smugglers spark prison security concerns

The government said it was trying to get the smugglers’ online account shut down, but the gang was still active on Instagram as this story went to press.

We exposed last week how the crime gang had flooded prisons with internet hotspots hidden inside clocks, beard trimmers and fans, allowing crooks to secretly communicate with the criminal underworld from their cells.

The same gang was smuggling the dangerous drug Spice into prisons, disguised as privileged legal correspondence.

A decorated former organised crime detective said our revelations – reproduced by the Daily Mail over the weekend – could cause “incalculable” embarrassment to the police and prison service.

Richmond and Twickenham Times: Labour's shadow prisons minister Ruth Cadbury said the revelations raised questions about security and showed the Conservative government had 'lost control of prisons'Labour’s shadow prisons minister Ruth Cadbury said the revelations raised questions about security and showed the Conservative government had ‘lost control of prisons’ (Image: HM Govt)

Catch up:

Shadow prisons minister Ruth Cadbury has now called on the government to urgently explain what it is going to do about the problem.

“These are shocking allegations and suggest a huge failure in prison security – but they demonstrate the consequences of 14 years of the Conservatives running our prison estate into the ground,” she said.

“We already know the number of drugs being found in prisons has increased by over 100% in the last five years and this sort of organised criminal activity shows just how widespread drug smuggling is.

“Ministers need to make clear why it took so long for this ring to be uncovered and what urgent steps are being taken to improve prison security.”

Richmond and Twickenham Times: The Instagram account marketed seemingly mundane devices like clocks, beard trimmers and fans with internet hotspots hidden inside themThe Instagram account marketed seemingly mundane devices like clocks, beard trimmers and fans with internet hotspots hidden inside them (Image: Instagram)

Newsquest wrote to prisons minister Edward Argar’s office last week, asking whether he would investigate how the smuggling scheme went undetected for so long and how prison security would be improved.

We also asked how the prison system would go about finding and removing all the illegal devices.

His office did not respond.

“We have had a dozen different prison ministers over the last decade and it is clear the Conservatives have lost control of our prisons,” Mrs Cadbury added, echoing language used by former Conservative MP Lee Anderson about London mayor Sadiq Khan on GB News on Monday.

Richmond and Twickenham Times: The 'Trick A Screw' smugglers shared videos of their devices being used to secretly communicate with the outside world from inside prison cellsThe ‘Trick A Screw’ smugglers shared videos of their devices being used to secretly communicate with the outside world from inside prison cells (Image: Instagram)

The gang, operating on Instagram under the name “Trick A Screw”, had been active for two-and-a-half years before Newsquest learned it was under investigation by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and at least one police force.

They posted videos shot inside prison cells of customers accessing Instagram and WhatsApp through their televisions, by connecting them to internet hotspots hidden inside clocks.

They also soaked paper in the deadly, mind-altering drug Spice and then mailed it to prisoners in special envelopes, disguised as privileged legal letters that the prison is not allowed to intercept.

Lags can then tear the fake letters up and smoke them.

After the gang came under investigation by the MOJ’s Digital Media Investigation Unit, their account was shut down.

But they just stuck a number two on the end of their name and immediately opened a new account, even posting a copy of Instagram’s email about their former account being shut down, to prove they were the same people.

Richmond and Twickenham Times: The gang came under investigation by the Ministry of Justice and Instagram shut down their account - but they just relaunched straight away with a number two on the end of their nameThe gang came under investigation by the Ministry of Justice and Instagram shut down their account – but they just relaunched straight away with a number two on the end of their name (Image: Instagram)

We wrote to the officers of Conservative MPs Michelle Donelan (secretary of state for science, innovation and technology) and Saqib Bhatti (under secretary of state) last week, to ask whether they would demand answers or improvements from Instagram.

Neither minister responded, but the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology said: “It is completely untrue to claim the authorities were unaware of these accounts and we have taken action to get them shut down.

“The Online Safety Act will ensure social media companies must put in place safety measures that mitigate any illegal activity on their platforms and swiftly take down illegal content once they become aware of it.”

Newsquest emailed Instagram’s press office with questions about the replacement “Trick A Screw” account on February 15.

It did not respond, and the account remained online as of February 28.

Adblock test (Why?)