Nitrous oxide dealer jailed in landmark case

Patrolling police officers caught a drug dealer red-handed in the midst of his plan to supply a Christmas party with ketamine and nitrous oxide.

During a traffic stop in Southernhay, Basildon, on Friday December 1, officers found 30-year-old Thomas Salton behind the wheel of a Range Rover.

He was notably nervous and agitated while interacting with them.

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

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.

Amongst 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, police executed warrants at his home address in Hunters Court, Brentwood, and two storage units linked to Salton in the Vange area.

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

Salton appeared at Southend Crown Court on Monday January 8, where he admitted possession with intent to supply a Class B and Class C drug. He also admitted possession of a Class A drug, on the basis the mushrooms found were for personal consumption, and possession of criminal property.

At the same court today, Monday February 19, he was sentenced to 35 months’ imprisonment.

Bodycam footage of Salton’s arrest

Detective Sergeant Stephen Robson, of SOCU, said: “Our investigation placed Salton in the midst of large-scale supply to customers within the party scene in Essex.

“Our later enquiries 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.

“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.”

In November 2023, nitrous oxide was classified as a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. 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.

Salton’s conviction for possessing nitrous oxide – commonly known as laughing gas – with intent to supply, is thought to be one of the first since the passing of the new law.
Chief Superintendent Simon Anslow said: “We have wasted no time in putting this new legislation to use, as we know the use and supply of nitrous oxide in our communities 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.

“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.”

Alex Hinds, a prosecutor for CPS East of England, said: “Nitrous oxide is a dangerous drug and hopefully this first conviction will deter those thinking of buying or selling it.”

Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said: “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.

“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.”