British government was warned about dangerous Ecstasy by Dutch drug researchers before Ipswich deaths – but didn’t pass it on to the public in time

The 'Superman' Ecstasy pill which has been linked to three deaths in Suffolk.

The 'Superman' Ecstasy pill which has been linked to three deaths in Suffolk. - Credit: NFI 2014

A warning about dangerous batches of Ecstasy which have been linked to the deaths of three men in Suffolk was not passed on to the public by the government, it has been revealed.

Superintendent Louisa Pepper, the police commander for the Ipswich area, talks about the recent drug

Superintendent Louisa Pepper, the police commander for the Ipswich area, talks about the recent drugs related deaths in Ipswich. - Credit: Su Anderson

Dutch drug researchers examining red, triangular pills bearing the Superman logo alerted British officials to the potential dangers of the drug several days before the first death in Ipswich.

Two men in the town and one in Rendlesham died after taking Ecstasy containing PMMA, a stronger and more dangerous active ingredient than those usually found in the drug. A stash of 400 tablets was then found by police near Norwich Road on Sunday.

On December 19 the Trimbos Institute, based in Utrecht in the Netherlands, made the UK Government aware of the potential dangers of this patch of pills after identifying PMMA as an ingredient.

However no official warning was made in this country before the first death five days later on Christmas Eve. The two other deaths happened on New Year’s Day.

Bixley county councillor and chairman of the Health Scrutiny Committee Alan Murray.

Bixley county councillor and chairman of the Health Scrutiny Committee Alan Murray. - Credit: Archant

Dr Caroline Chatwin, a criminologist from the University of Kent, said: “The Trimbos Institute issued its highest alert possible on these same pink Superman pills after testing them and finding that they contained deadly PMMA.

“Although the connection between these recent deaths and a drug policy that is illogical and punitive has been noted, few have picked up on the fact that detailed information on the harms of these pills was available in the week leading up to the deaths in the UK.

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“The failure on the part of the UK government to make public this knowledge means that they must take some responsibility for the events that unfolded.”

Ruth Croft, team manager at Norfolk and Suffolk drug charity The Matthew Project, said: “With hindsight we can all make better judgements.

“Of course any information we have can help us educate people better. Wether we would have been able to prevent the deaths I don’t know.

“The drugs market is moving so quickly at the moment we are always playing catch up. It’s very important to have conversations with all of our clients to find out these things.

“It (a warning) could have saved lives, nobody really knows. Information is always useful to have, whether it gets to the right people in the right amount of time is another matter.”

Rosanna O’Connor, director of the alcohol, drugs and tobacco division at Public Health England (PHE), said: “Any intelligence PHE receives alerting us to an identifiable problem batch of drugs likely to cause a significant risk in England is acted on. We have a well-established system for issuing a national alert.

“However, in the light of these tragic events we will work with partners to accelerate the review already underway of how drug alert systems in the UK can be improved, including how they join up with intelligence from Europe.”

Adrian Lubecki, 19, was charged with being concerned in the supply of ecstasy, and has been remanded in custody to appear at Ipswich Crown Court next week, while two others are on bail pending further investigations.

Two of the deaths in Suffolk have been referred to the coroner.

A fourth person is also thought to have died from the drug in Telford, Shropshire.

Several other people in Ipswich have been treated in hospital after taking the rogue pills.

Both Suffolk Constabulary and Suffolk County Council issued further warnings yesterday after tests on the drugs found near Norwich Road in Ipswich revealed it was PMMA which makes them so dangerous.

PMMA is a strong, slow release drug which can take several hours to work.

Alan Murray, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for health and adult care, said: “These pills contain potentially lethal ingredients which as we have seen can have tragic consequences. We would urge people under no circumstances to take these or any other illegal drugs.

“Symptoms can last for several hours and include initial shaking and sweating, which can develop into a rapid temperature increase, severely raised heart rate and blood pressure. When combined with alcohol or dehydration, this can prove fatal.

“If you have taken illegal drugs, or if you know someone who has become unwell after taking illegal drugs and needs urgent medical care, call 999 immediately and ask for the ambulance service.”

Superintendent Louisa Pepper from Suffolk police said: “Our absolute priority is to prevent anyone else from suffering the tragic consequences of these drugs, by removing them from our communities.

“We’re urging anyone who has tablets matching this description not to take them or pass them on, and to hand them in to us or one of the agencies listed.

“We successfully seized a large quantity of drugs at the weekend but there may still be some out there so if you are offered them or have any information about these tablets please contact us immediately.”

As of early yesterday afternoon no one had handed in any of the drugs to police or partner agencies.

Anyone in possession of the drug is asked to surrender it to police in person or by calling 101, or at CRI in St Matthews Street, the MVA Team at 70-74 St Helens Street, or the fire service at Princes Street, all in Ipswich.