Member of the Wootton Committee on Cannabis and the Deedes Committee on Powers of Arrests and Search
The events you have beien reading about are being done in our name for our benefit. This is not the report of a terrible scandal — corruption, police brutality, gross miscarriage of justice. It is a quieter, more insidious kind of injustice; bending the law a little bit in one case, forgetting a regulation in a second, being too busy to attend to someone's legitimate request in a third. These are not the acts of -wicked people. But if you are not surprised and dismayed by this report. you must be under the influence of a very powerful drug - complacency.
Is it all true? I cannot vouch for every word, nor can Caroline or Rufus. They were too busy helping a frightened boy or girl in a bewildering predicament to stop and carry • out a.cross-examination. But as I read the report, letters, and cases, the situations are so similar to others I have known and the statements ring so true that I have no doubt that the essential facts are correct. Even in Section II when a few addicts propound theories of drug taking which I would wish 4.to query, can you doubt that what they say is, for them, absolutely and unreservedly true?
It is difficult for many people to imagine what it is like to be searched and arrested, especially late at night. The swaggoring self-confidence of the young, defiantly asserting their independence, is an outer shell which is tough, believe me.
But it can collapse at the sight of five policemen and an Alsatian — "frightened little children lost in a big, dark, cold uncaring world" as Tony wrote (on page 59). First offenders are confused and afraid when they run against the law and this is especially true of drug users when they have come down in the cold light of morning.
The report notes the importance of being middle class if you are going to be arrested (page 27). It is a sad fact that the people who most need the excellent advice offered Section I will probably never read it. Books are not a form of communication used by the non-academic early school leavers and so it is up to us to let them know that they have rights even when they are being searched and arrested.
One thing the report makes clear is that, inarticulate or not, it is essential to have a solicitor This is a doleful comment on our legal system. If you are walking down the street and a policeman arrests you, even if you are absolutely innocent, it seems that the only way you can be sure of staying out of prison is to employ a solicitor. And you may not get legal aid if the magistrate does not like the look of you.
Not that there is any guarantee that your defending lawyer will be helpful. There are examples in this report and I can think of others especially where sexual offenders are before the court, when the defending lawyer has been unsympathetic and incompetent. One of the best achievements of ,RELEASE has bedn to build up a panel of lawyers who are Skilled in the particular problems of drug cases
The defending lawyer is always reluctant to allege planting by the police. It is a very difficult subject. Some meettrates assume that an accusation against the police is the Iast resort of a criminal who cannot think of any other ex- - ;ense. / have met honest policemen who will admit that planting does occur on rare occasions, saying that even in the police force there are bound to be some bad characters It this explanation is satisfactory to you and if you are content to allow a few innocent people to be planted in the - Interests of catching the drug addicts and traffickers, then I hope the next innocent person to be planted is you.
But I would like to put more emphasis on the other shortcomings in police methods revealed in this report. The unofficial actions which the experienced criminal can counter, but which confuse and depress the young drug offender to the extent that he really does not get the justice he deserves. The police station where the messages never get through, and the telephone is never free: The policemen who obstruct the search for sureties even after the magistrate has granted bail: The untrue promises of "We'll see you get off lightly if you tell us what we want to know": The one nice and one nasty interrogator (described on page 19), such a common trick that I think it must be part of a policeman's training.
Of course it is to be expected that the police are anxious to make the charge stick once they have taken a man in. But It is an attitude that can be taken too far, especially when it is used to defend rough justice such as - "Well, maybe he hasn't actually got a drug on him this time, but we know he's an addict."
You may protest that the law is already too heavily weighted on the side of the criminal and gives him the benefit of the doubt. In fact the procedural maze of our legal system traps and punishes. the sinAll-time offender without, catching the big-time crook who knows hew to demand and get his rights. This is particularly true of those who are remanded in custody and those who are granted bail, as this -.report so clearly shows.
Of course the law cannot solve the problem of drug abuse because it is primarily a medical and social problem. Some doctors say heroin addiction should be treated "just any other epidemic" and demand strong powers to compel the patient to stay in a hospital. But most social workers would not agree that physical withdrawal is not even halfway towards a cure. The real problem for the addict is to find a satisfactory role in the community and he is not going to find this in an institution. How can anyone doubt the psychological problems of the addict after reading about intentions which have more reality than acts, the sexual element which comes into the act of fixing and the other very real insights in Section II of this report. These are the words of articulate junkies; but nearly asll drug abusers have psychologica problems just as complex and just as acute.
Do not be misled by the statistics on page 109. RELEASE is best known and has been most influential in London. In provincial towns the sentences for drug offences tend to be more severe. The figures of "known results" given in the last column are a credit to RELEASE, not a true picture of the real situation.
Nevertheless I hope we have at last reached the lowest point of the drug scare and there will now be some improvement as the witch hunt dies. (Who will be the next scapegoat?) The work of enlightened social workers and the people at RELEASE is beginning to have some effect. Some magistrates have shown a sensible awareness of the problem and some have volunteered to go on training courses. The , rational arguments in the Wootton Report will convince some people, while others will react against the reception of the report by the Home Secretary and his shadow, both of whom responded with a display of emotion and prejudice which is sad as well as shameful.
But there is a long way to go. I meet many wonderful people whose life is spent in the service of others, dedicated to social welfare, taking away misery and adding to the sum of human happiness. And yet if someone uses a chemical crutch to find his own deeper more private happiness, these, well-intentioned people are horrified. They will do everything they can to prevent the use of drugs, assuming that the user will only hurt himself and end up on the scrap heap like the meths drinker. I am not so sure. I believe some will inevitably abuse drugs, and many will not. But even when we know a drug is harmful, we must use persuasion in the same way as we attempt to dissuade people from smoking tobacco. We should hesitate before we arrest the drug user - and lock him up.
We badly need answers to the questions that Caroline and Rufus ask. And I have another question. Why has it been left to them and other people in the underground? The way some adults revile the young, particularly those in the underground, the very existence of this report should be a surprise: I hope these people will learn that there is much activity and much useful work going on among the young, and I am not talking about the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme. This report has not only demonstrated the inadequacies of the system, it has also shown that there is no other channel for pointing out these faults. Furthermore one should be ashamed that it has been necessary for the young people in the underground to organise their own self-help organisation. • Now that they have shown us what is wrong, it is up to us, the older adults with more power and influence, to put it right. And if we don't, we shall deserve all the trouble we shall undoubtedly get.