PHILIP FLOWER reveals the violence and misery that drugs can cause

What ARE they on? As one police force says it will let off heroin users, former top detective PHILIP FLOWER reveals the violence and misery that drugs can cause

The gangsters and dealers flooding Britain’s streets with hard drugs will be delighted by news that Thames Valley Police plans to introduce the most lenient policy on illegal substances ever seen in this country.

Users found in possession of Class A drugs including heroin, cocaine and ecstasy will be sent on their way without so much as an official caution. Incredibly, the new policy is simply to let people off for drugs offences.

Their stash will be confiscated, and officers will politely recommend that the user visits an addiction advice service. That’s it. Police will not even follow up the incident, to find out how many users seek help as suggested.

Users found in possession of Class A drugs including heroin, cocaine and ecstasy will be sent on their way without so much as an official caution under Thames Valley Police’s new initiative

I was a senior police officer for many years. The people I arrested in possession of drugs were often in a dreadful state, suffering with mental health problems that in many cases were caused by drugs.

It’s hopelessly naive to imagine that, left to their own devices, addicts will voluntarily seek out the help they need.

But the stupidity of this insidious policy goes much deeper than mere naivety. It actively erodes the police’s ability to exercise control on the streets.

From long experience, I know that in almost every case where officers follow up a petty drugs seizure, more crime will be uncovered. When police search a user’s address, they will frequently find more drugs, other users and stolen goods. Drug arrests, even for very small amounts, usually enable police to clear up other crimes and catch other criminals.

This can include the discovery of major organised crime rings. When I was in charge of the West End Central district of the Met in London, overseeing Soho, we pursued a robust drugs policy.

That was a direct response to theatres and businesses who told us customers were being driven away by the fear of crime associated with drug abuse.

What we discovered, thanks to a major covert operation, was that many people who claimed to be small-time users were frequently suppliers as well. They concealed their true activities by carrying only very small amounts of drugs, never enough to raise suspicion that they were the real dealers.


By studying CCTV of their activities, we exposed a sophisticated supply network. High-level dealers were bringing vulnerable people to the UK to sell drugs on the street.

They never carried enough for more than one or two customers at a time — never so much that it could raise suspicions that they were dealing. In fact, they always had a much bigger stash hidden nearby.

This was a clever approach because, when taken to court, the seller would claim they had it only for personal use.

Then they’d tell a sob story about their numerous social and personal problems, in the sure hope that the court would be lenient in its sentencing.

The gang bosses knew how to exploit this. The penalties they meted out to dealers who ‘grassed’ and co-operated with police were far more Draconian than anything the courts could threaten to impose.

Thames Valley will record the possession of drugs as a crime, but will not take the person into custody nor give them any warning, caution or conviction

Vulnerable youngsters were warned that their friends and family, often back home in another country, would be the ones to suffer if anyone stepped out of line.

This is the rule of fear that enables ruthless drug lords to operate networks stretching all over the country today, the so-called ‘county lines’ system.

It’s not new: I remember one woman, brought to Britain by a Yardie gang to sell drugs, who was terminally ill. The bosses were cynically exploiting the fact that she had less than a year to live. They knew that, if arrested, she would only ever receive a token fine.

Breaking these gangs will be even more difficult under the new Thames Valley policy. Without an arrest, there can be no proper interview or investigation. The police will never find out how deep the problem is or be able to collect the intelligence to expose the truth.

I suspect the real motive behind this decision is that it saves huge amounts of police time. Sadly, I am no longer surprised at these foolish and ill-considered policy decisions, dreamed up by senior officers with little or no practical street duty experience.

Too many of them have spent their working lives pursuing their personal career goals rather than criminals.

They have not seen the misery and suffering that drugs bring to the users, their families and communities. Drugs are pernicious and dangerous. Their misuse for personal gratification should not be tolerated.

Unfortunately, this Thames Valley scheme will be hailed as a success, because it will work — on paper at least. Each incident where a drug user is sent away with a gentle bit of advice, to stay out of trouble and talk to a counsellor, will be recorded as a ‘clear-up’.

A tick will be placed in the box marked ‘crime solved’.

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The chief constable is not inventing a new law. Technically, he’s not disregarding existing legislation — he’s in no doubt that drugs are illegal.

Senior police are entitled to introduce new policies, as long as they don’t completely disregard the law-books.

But it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that this new policy appears to normalise drug-taking, giving the impression it’s fine if anyone who wants to takes hard drugs.


Politicians will be satisfied because they will be able to announce that crimes have been solved. Meanwhile, in the real world, more drugs will fuel more thefts, more knife crime, more shattered lives.

I don’t blame the police. Their resources are stretched so thin that it’s inevitable they will look for corners to cut. The problem isn’t so much a lack of funding, as the ever increasing burden of bureaucracy.

Instead of patrolling the streets, police men and women are filling out endless paperwork, or surfing the internet on a mission to protect the perpetually offended.

But cutting corners on drugs crime is always wrong. It is not, as some claim, a victimless offence. On the contrary, it causes waves of suffering.

Just to take one example, what happens when a traffic officer stops a driver in possession of cocaine — an increasingly common occurrence?

The driver might not appear to be under the influence. But if drugs kick in later and there’s a fatal accident, the public will blame the officer who, minutes earlier, let that user remain behind the wheel.


All this is the opposite of a policy that many people, including me, see as the most effective weapon against drugs crime: zero tolerance.

On a working trip to New York in 2001, I saw it in action, a policy that co-ordinated every part of the war on crime, from police to community programmes that made the city safer and cleaner.

One case I watched from start to finish began with the arrest of a white-collar professional, a stockbroker, in possession of cocaine on the Metro.

The initiative, launched last week by Thames Valley Police, which covers the Prime Minister’s Maidenhead constituency, is the most lenient of its kind ever introduced in England

He was given a choice of 30 days in Rikers Island prison or 60 hours of community service — with the catch that he had to start work on cleaning up graffiti straight away.

As he left the courtroom, he was handed a pair of overalls. Swift, effective justice like that works, in a way that the soft approach never will.

Britain needs tough, joined-up thinking of the kind that has been so effective in New York. Without it, our streets are being given over piece by piece to criminals.


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