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Didcot mother hits out at police policy on drugs arrests

Friday 5th June 2009

MORE than half of people caught carrying cocaine, heroin and ecstasy are getting a slap on the wrist.

Figures released by police, after a Freedom of Information request, showed 1,007 people were arrested for possession of class-A drugs in Oxfordshire during the past two years.

Officers charged 310 people and cautioned 401 for possessing drugs. They released 259 without charge.

Charity DrugScope expressed concerns over the findings and the mother of a teenage boy killed by a heroin overdose branded the situation "disgusting".

Former Sea Cadet Christopher Preece, 18, died the first time he used heroin, in March 2007, while living in a housing project in Great Western Drive, Didcot.

His mother Emma Preece, 38, said: It's disgusting. These kids have heroin on them and get fined £80. It's just a slap on the wrist.

They have no money, so don't pay the fine and know they won't go to jail because the prisons are full.

Nothing happens if you get caught with drugs.

PC Leigh Thompson, Oxfordshire drugs co-ordinator, said jailing people carrying class-A drugs was not always the best option.

He said: I'd much rather get someone into treatment than give them the stigma of a criminal record.

But if it is serious, then we will take them to court.

We have got a good system of treatment here and it works really well.

Even with a caution, they still have to go through the relevant drug assessment programme.

Police test everyone charged for drugs. If class-A drugs are found in their blood, they are placed on drugs intervention programmes with organisations such as Oxford's Substance Misuse Arrest Referral Team (Smart) and Drugs and Alcohol Action Team (Daat).

Police also place drug testing requirements on criminals on bail from prison.

Darren Worthington, chief executive of Smart, said: Police now appreciate that serious addicts caught in possession are probably less likely to attend court dates, and that it would be more beneficial and less costly in these instances to caution and refer the individual directly to agencies like Smart.

Our experiences of working closely with the police in Oxfordshire tell us that they adopt a refreshingly pragmatic view of drug use generally.

During the past two years, police arrested 217 people for possession of class-A drugs with intent to supply.

They charged 68 and 131 were released. No one was cautioned.

Martin Barnes, Drug-Scope chief executive, said: The proportion of people arrested for possession of heroin or crack cocaine who are charged does seem low, but there are likely to be a number of factors at play.

The majority of police forces, including Thames Valley Police, now carry out drug tests on arrests where people are caught carrying heroin or crack. This can assist them in determining the most appropriate response.

Each offence should be judged on a case by case basis clearly, possessing class-A drugs with intent to supply is likely to merit a charge, but for individuals caught carrying small amounts of heroin or crack for personal use, a more appropriate response may be referral to drug treatment, often with a conditional caution, than criminal penalties.

The Misuse of Drugs Act says anyone convicted of possession of class-A drugs can face a maximum sentence of seven years in jail and an unlimited fine.