Christmas ‘party planner’ jailed in first laughing gas drug conviction

A drug dealer who was caught with homemade Christmas ‘party bags’ containing cannisters of laughing gas alongside balloons and candy canes has become the first person to be jailed for possession of the Class C drug since it was outlawed by the Home Office.

Feb 20, 2024
By Paul Jacques
Party bags with nitrous oxide and ketamine were discovered in the boot of Thomas Salton's car.

Thomas Salton, 30, from Brentwood in Essex, had a ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ list of customers, with those on the naughty list receiving a gift bag with drugs. Customers were also required to sign a non-closure document.

Salton was found with around 60 small cannisters of nitrous oxide, commonly known as ‘laughing gas’, 48 1gm bags of ketamine, and more than £38,000 in cash when Essex Police officers pulled over his Range Rover in Basildon on December 1.

The ketamine was divided into bags marked with a ‘K’ and put inside the Christmas party bags along with two cannisters of nitrous oxide.

A further 408 nitrous oxide cannisters and 965 grams of ketamine were later found at a property Salton was renting ten miles from his home.

Essex Police said this was “clearly an organised operation”.

Salton pleaded guilty to drug possession with intent to supply at a hearing last month and was sentenced at Southend Crown Court on Monday (February19) to a total of 35 months in prison.

Nitrous oxide was classified as a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in November last year. Under the legislation, users could face up to two years in prison for possession, while those convicted of supply could face up to 14 years.

Essex Police said Salton was “notably nervous and agitated” when he was caught “red-handed” in the midst of his plan to supply a Christmas party with ketamine and nitrous oxide.

“In the boot, the officers found party bags containing items such as Christmas crackers and sweets,” the force said.

“Alongside these more innocent items were grip-sealed bags of ketamine, together with nitrous oxide cannisters with balloons.

“Officers also seized a sum of cash – found to be more than £38,000.

“Among the items found was a ‘naughty and nice’ list, denoting the customers at the party who had elected to have illicit drugs in their party bags, and a non-disclosure agreement with Salton’s name at the top.”

Following Salton’s arrest, warrants were executed at his home address in Hunters Court, Brentwood, and two storage units  in the Vange area.

At the units, officers uncovered a vacuum-sealed bag of psilocybin mushrooms, further bags of ketamine and 17 boxes of cannisters – totalling 408 nitrous oxide cannisters.

Detective Sergeant Stephen Robson, of the Essex Police Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: “Our investigation placed Salton in the midst of large-scale supply to customers within the party scene in Essex.

“He was found to be holding large quantities of Class B and Class C drugs separated for supply purposes.

“Our later inquiries at his business lockup demonstrated the preparation behind this operation, with large quantities of illicit drugs stored for later packaging and supply in smaller quantities.

“This was clearly an organised operation, with Salton even going to the lengths of drafting a non-disclosure agreement for his customers to sign.

“This level of detail and organisation provided us with exactly the evidence we needed to prove his role in an illicit drug supply operation.

“It is perhaps easy for people to think that consuming these drugs at a party is harmless.

“In reality it is this market which lies behind the serious violence and exploitation of vulnerable people which goes hand-in-hand with illegal drug supply.”

Chief Superintendent Simon Anslow, Essex Police drugs lead, said: “We have wasted no time in putting this new legislation to use, as we know the use and supply of nitrous oxide is intrinsically linked to anti-social behaviour in our communities.

“What this means is a proportionate approach to the recreational use of this substance.

“Where we can, we will engage with people to explain the change in law and encourage them not to use or buy nitrous oxide for this purpose.

“Where that doesn’t work, we won’t hesitate to consider enforcement action.

“For those using nitrous oxide recreationally, this could include community resolutions, cautions or prosecution.

“For those supplying this substance, this means a tough and robust response.

“People like Salton, who are involved in highly-organised operations to supply drugs like nitrous oxide to users, will face investigation, prosecution and risk a prison sentence.

“Responsibility also lies with retailers to ensure they are aware of the law around nitrous oxide.

“They have a moral and legal duty to ensure they are doing everything they can when selling this product to ascertain that it is being purchased for a legitimate purpose, and not for recreational use.”

Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said the case sends a “clear message”.

“For too long the use of this drug in public spaces has contributed to anti-social behaviour which is a blight on communities, while also being dangerous to the health of users,” he said.

“That’s why we changed the law to give the police the powers they need to take a zero-tolerance approach to this crime.

“This conviction and sentencing sends a clear signal to anyone considering dealing in nitrous oxide, or found in illegal possession of it, that this crime will not be tolerated.”

Alex Hinds, a prosecutor for Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) East of England, said: “The evidence against Thomas Salton was overwhelming and this case is an example of all parts of the justice system working together to get drugs and those who sell them off the streets.

“The change in the law coupled with the actions of the police has allowed the CPS to present the strongest case in court and put Thomas Salton out of business and into prison.

“Nitrous oxide is a dangerous drug and hopefully this first conviction will deter those thinking of buying or selling it.”

At the sentencing, the CPS said it would begin legal proceedings to recover any money Salton had obtained from his crime.

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