Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1420
TUESDAY 12 MARCH 2002
1420. Would you agree that in exercising their
freedom to do what they like with their own lives, they are having
a harmful effect on other people's lives, the individual's and
the wider community?
(Mr Sims) There is a balance. We talk about the right
that individuals have to make their own decisions and act in a
certain way, but that they have a responsibility not to do so
in a way which harms anybody else. There is a responsibility not
to harm themselves maybe, but certainly a responsibility not to
harm anybody else, so we interpret that to mean that education
for family members and parents about what the true effects and
different details about drugs are is as useful as providing it
for younger people as well. We think that both have to happen
1421. Mr Gillespie, you mentioned education.
Maybe you would have a view as to what is wrong with drug education
and why your own son was resistant, despite a good supportive
family background and his own siblings who tried to help him?
Is there any way that you could foresee or anything different
which could have been done which would have helped him and might
(Mr Gillespie) Well, I work, Chairman, on the very
simple principle that where there is life, there is hope and where
there is no life, there is no hope, and my son is dead. Something
let him down. Either I let him down, the system let him down or
he let himself down, so you try to find the causes of that. At
school the children are educated in how to behave themselves in
all kinds of ways. In one of many ways, I was trying to find out
how many of his classmates ended up using drugs and addicted to
drugs. I have been able to find two or three who have been using
drugs, but none of them were addicted, so he was just there. I
think it would be unfair to extend that into some criticism of
the education system just because my son became a victim of his
own habits, but I do feel that where the system falls down, to
answer your question specifically, is that education should be
much more honest than it is at the moment. I think where you just
demonise drugs and just say, "Drugs are bad and they should
be banned", which is very simple and we would not be sitting
here today if we did that, but we would be all gone somewhere
else, that would be terrific, but children do not accept that.
Whether it is a brighter generation than mine, I do not know,
but they just do not buy things like that. You cannot tell them
something that they will not test. I honestly would hate to be
sitting here and tell you what I might have done if this kind
of social milieu had been around when I was that age. I was doing
all the things I should not have been doing, girls, coffee bars,
and all this kind of stuff, under threat of annihilation by my
father, but you did it. The trouble is that we are dealing with
a commodity that is lethal if it is not handled properly and,
without being boring, I keep thinking we are not in control of
it and I just think that we should be.
1422. Mrs Humphreys, could I just ask about
your son's own circumstances. When he admitted to possession of
the ecstasy tablets, was he aware that the crime could carry a
(Mrs Humphreys) I think he was and they were sort
of all in together. There was fear and panic on the day because
these people had come to the door and were banging on the door
and they thought it was a gang because Manchester is quite rough.
They rang the police for help, the students in the house, including
my son, because they were scared that this was a gang, but it
was plain-clothed policemen who had come not because they were
looking for my son, but they were horrified when it was a crowd
of students in this house because it was a very strong house which
had been used by somebody very suspect before they had taken it
over, and they were not looking for these kids at all. The kids
were terrified, so they ran out the back. Then they saw there
were policemen in uniforms and it was all very dramatic. Then
they thought, "Oh my God, the cannabis and the ecstasy".
It was all panicky and in the heat of the moment when they said,
"Whose drugs are they?", my son just told them, so it
was all like that and then it was too late. Yes, I think he did
and he was terrified then and he was just a jelly because he thought
he could go away for 15 years or something.
1423. So he was aware of the consequences?
(Mrs Humphreys) They all were, yes, yes. The thing
is that they live in this culture, and a lot of students do, where
they go to clubs and nobody is catching anybody, there are lots
of blind eyes turned and they just do not expect that it is going
to happen. They think they are okay. They think they are being
sensible and yet they are not actually very street-wise in fact,
so if you are a parent, you have now got to teach kids to be more
street-wise, "Don't get caught because it is not worth going
to prison for".
1424. We have taken a lot of evidence about
this kind of murky area of interpretation about what is possession,
what is intent to supply and what is trafficking. Do you think
if there were very clear guidelines to your son that the possession
of 12 ecstasy tablets would carry a custodial sentence, he would
not have been caught with them?
(Mrs Humphreys) Absolutely. He absolutely would not
have done that, no, no, no.
1425. He might have had 11?
(Mrs Humphreys) Possibly. I do not think he would
have had any need at all even to save them up or anything if it
was all a much bigger thing. It definitely would not have happened.
1426. So one of the areas that you think could
be changed in terms of policy-making is to provide much more clarity?
(Mrs Humphreys) That is right and to clarify supply.
Social supply is like buying a round of beers or something. That
is how they see it. That is, whether we like it or not, how they
see it and when they are taking their turn like that, it should
not be regarded as some evil, criminal drug-dealing.
1427. I think I probably know your answer to
this question, but presumably you would assume that if there was
going to be a review of the classification system, ecstasy should
not be classified the same as heroin?
(Mrs Humphreys) No, I think it should be classified
as to how dangerous it is and the scientific evidence, according
to the Runciman Report, showed that it is not as dangerous, it
is not addictive, for a start, and that is a scientific thing.
I go along with that. I do not know how dangerous ecstasy is personally.
How would I?
1428. Mr Sims, have ADFAM got a view on that?
(Mr Sims) We would broadly support the recommendations
of the Runciman Report principally because of this issue that
if education is based on fact, then it tends to be more effective
than if it is based onfor example, if all drugs are described
equally as dangerous, then it diminishes the message rather because
it is not what people are seeing on the street around them which
is as powerful an influence as the law or as education is. You
have got to balance all those things together.
1429. Mr Gillespie, firstly, can I say on the
point you made earlier, I do not think you are a man who would
let his son down, so I make that point now. I do want to ask you
quite a straight question here, and I read your letter, which
is do you believe, had your son been on a diamorphine prescription
programme when he was in prison, that he would not have overdosed
when he got out of prison?
(Mr Gillespie) I think if the drug that my son had
taken to start with had not been so full of impurities, he would
possibly have survived. I think the five weeks without anything,
because nothing was offered to him in prison and they had what
is called a "throughput" thing, a system where you are
supposed to be followed out, but that only happens for certain
categories of people, it was not available to him. Oddly enough,
two months after he died, I got a thing in the post from the Prison
Service, saying, "If you want your son to be entered into
this, would you sign this?" So, to answer your question specifically,
no, there was nothing there that I could see that would have prevented
his death other than the drug that he took itself being impure
and if he had not had to steal to support his habit, and we can
go back to all the evidence against that in the first place, we
can do all that, but if he had not finished up in the prison system,
he would have been alive today, I am quite convinced of that,
as I think I said in my memorandum. However, if the stuff he had
got outside of prison when he came out of prison, given that there
was no other support system or treatment or anything else or anywhere
else he could turn, he just took what was there and it killed
him. Have I answered your question? I am not sure.
1430. Yes, I think you have. You have pointed
me in the right direction anyway, thank you. Tina, can I just
ask you about your own personal experience because I talk to some
of the family groups in my own constituency and the one thing
that we obviously worry about on this Committee is this thing
about whether there are gateway drugs and you have seen with some
of the questions this morning that people are trying to tease
that out. Certainly families tell me that they have experience
of their kids going straight in to taking heroin. Do you have
experience of that in your own area or do you think that they
take other drugs before they get into heroin?
(Ms Williams) I think there are other drugs as well
as cannabis and I just think it is like a roller-coaster ride
for some kids where they are moving from one to another. You cannot
particularly pull cannabis out.
1431. So you would not say that there is any
inter-relationship and that if the law was loosened up on one
drug, it might lead to harder drug-use?
(Ms Williams) I do not think so.
1432. As a general question to everyone, do
you think that there are any circumstances where a conviction
for drug-use or abuse would merit a custodial sentence?
(Mrs Humphreys) Well, you have got to protect children,
do you not? I do not think it really happens very much, but if
you had somebody trying to push drugs on to children, I think
you have to protect young people from everything. It is no different.
(Mr Sims) I would hazard an answer which is that for
me the issue is the behaviour that is the result of the use rather
than the use itself. Therefore, as a simple answer to your question
in terms of whether there is ever a circumstance where a custodial
sentence should be offered to somebody using something, my answer
would be no, but if the behaviour that results from that use damages
others or the society around that person, then my answer would
be different and may be yes.
(Mr Gillespie) The same laws for prosecuting people
who give cigarettes and alcohol to minors would be the same thing.
You can do it if you want to, but I do not think that people who
take drugs, who use drugs or people who are addicted to drugs
should be treated as criminals. They should be treated as patients
in the public health service sector, not the criminal justice
system, and the money used in that system should be used in the
public health service.
(Ms Williams) I agree with that. If you give the right
treatment, then there should be no need for the crimes to be committed
in the first place.
1433. Your evidence has been most profound and
powerful. Can I just ask both Mr Gillespie and Ms Williams first,
did your sons hold down jobs at all during their period of addiction?
(Ms Williams) No. He could not. The only thing that
he used to think about from getting up in the morning was how
he would get his fix, where he was going to get it from, if the
gear was good enough. That was always another consideration. Sometimes
he would come back and say, "It's no good. This stuff's not
strong enough. It's not helping me". He could not eat, he
could not sleep, so heroin took over his whole life.
(Mr Gillespie) My son was involved in the voluntary
sector and he wanted to be a social worker basically and wanted
to go into social services, always into helping people, but, to
answer your question specifically, once he got a habit he could
not afford to work, but he had to steal.
1434. But up until that point, he was involved
in the community doing something?
(Mr Gillespie) Yes, early on, but very quickly because
he had to go to criminal sources to get this stuff, it is the
usual thing we all know, all his time was spent trying to raise
the cash to get the stuff.
1435. One of the pieces of evidence that we
have been given before suggests that if heroin is prescribed and
people are stabilised, then they can actually hold down jobs.
(Mr Gillespie) Absolutely. One of Mrs Thatcher's advisers,
and a lot of people, including doctors, was heroin dependent.
Because there are no long-term side-effects from heroin, unlike
alcohol and tobacco, he was able to work perfectly normally and
history is littered with people who were dependent on opium and
heroin for many, many years. I am not advocating, as I said at
the beginning, I am not advocating drug-use, but it is possible.
1436. The other thing which has come across
so very clearly from all of you is that you are very, very supportive
parents and the rest of your families have been extremely supportive
of people who have deeply hurt your families. What would you say
we could do as politicians within this Committee for those addicts
where the families are not supportive for whatever reason, maybe
they are frightened, fearful of the drugs, whatever the reason
might be, but families who have left their child to get on with
it? What do you think we could do for them?
(Ms Williams) I think we have got to make sure that
the right treatment is out there for them, like you say, either
residential detoxing, rehab, supported housing schemes. Supported
housing, that should be there, and like halfway house situations
when they come out of rehab just to get them re-established back
into the community where they can get support with bills and just
living everyday life and coming to terms with the problems because
when you take heroin away, they are hit with a wave of emotions
that they have not had for years and it just comes back really
strong for them, so it is about putting that support in place.
(Mr Sims) I would absolutely agree and recognise too,
I suppose, that family does not always mean blood relatives, that
some people will choose to create their own families and that
that connection to society or a community seems to be, from the
evidence that I have seen, a critical factor in whether somebody
can survive and thrive on their own.
(Mr Gillespie) Chairman, there is no question that
many young people fall into drugs of all kinds because of difficult
family backgrounds, but I have been absolutely astonished, as
I said earlier, to find that this is not a background thing. This
is not working class or middle class or upper class or anything,
but this goes right across the board. For people who are less
privileged, if you like, or less well educated or have had fewer
advantages, these people are even in a worse state because they
are not articulate and they cannot go and ask for what they want.
Sometimes they do not know what they want and they do not know
where to go, and virtually every time they go somewhere, they
get the door slammed in their face or are just told to go away.
Many of them of course are absolutely terrified to go anywhere
near anything that looks like authority for a whole load of reasons,
so they have a tougher time, I think, than we do.
(Ms Williams) Could I add that I think that the Committee
could set up some kind of ombudsman where it is not social services,
it is not the Health Service, but an independent arbiter, if you
like, whom people, who felt that they were not getting the services,
could go to.
(Mrs Humphreys) I think the illegality makes a stigma
too. Some families are very afraid that this is breaking the law
and, "This is going to affect all of us", and they just
do not want anything to do with it. Perhaps they have been stolen
from or their friends are being stolen from and there is no help
for their young people, so it is hard for some families to support
all of that and they just do not have the resources, emotionally
or financially or anything.
1437. And that also applies regardless again
(Mrs Humphreys) That is right.
1438. It does not just happen because they happen
to be poor. Mrs Humphreys, could I just press you a little bit
more on the ecstasy use and you were saying that ecstasy is not
(Mrs Humphreys) No, I did not say that. I did not
say that it was not dangerous. I said that I do not know how dangerous
it is and I leave it to scientists to decide. I do not know how
dangerous it is. I never said it was not dangerous.
1439. Forgive me then for misinterpreting that,
but we do know that people have died from taking ecstasy.
(Mrs Humphreys) Yes, and people have died from drinking
alcohol, choking on it and vomiting and alcohol poisoning, many,
many more people. I just think that everything should be looked
at for its own dangers and not that ecstasy is worse than anything
or better than anything, but it should just be scientifically