Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by the London Borough of Camden


  1.1  In the London Borough of Camden we have three major open drug markets: in the West End, Kings Cross and Camden Town. Research undertaken in the West End market shows that the market has national and international elements, and we have no reason to assume that this is not the case in the other drug markets within the borough. Camden Police achieve a higher than average rate of judicial disposals for supply and possession of Class A drugs as a proportion of all drugs offences (44 per cent compared to 30 per cent). Camden has a higher than average proportion of its population in drug treatment services (10.32 per 1000 compared to a national average of 2.63)[9]. It is clear that, in Camden, we are at the "sharp end" of the country's drug problem, and we submit our views to the Committee from a position of experience in dealing with the problem over many years.

  1.2  Before considering whether existing drug policy works, it is important to be clear about its aims. We have reached broad agreement that there are three key policy aims:

    1.2.1  to reduce drug-related crime;

    1.2.2  to improve the quality of life for our communities (including drug users);

    1.2.3  to protect vulnerable young people.

  1.3  It is also important to recognise the absolute dominance of the criminalised market as the underlying barrier to achieving these aims, and the seeming impossibility of making an impact on the market in the current policy framework. A recent London Drug Policy Forum conference on Availability heard presentations from HM Customs and Excise, the National Crime Intelligence Service, the Regional Crime Squad and the Drugs Directorate of the Metropolitan Police. Each speaker carried the same message: having increased the sophistication of their operations and the resources expended, there was still no evidence of any impact on our national drug markets; rather there was, perhaps, an unsupported assumption that, in the absence of such enforcement activity, drugs may have been more widely available at cheaper prices.

  1.4  This experience is mirrored at the local level. Camden police are exceedingly good at, and are widely recognised for, the high quality of their partnership working at both a strategic and an operational level. Project Lilac has allowed us to focus £2 million of Targeted Policing Initiative funding on an area of approximately two square miles in the West End to pilot methods for permanently disrupting drug markets. Highly developed partnership working across agencies and across boroughs (in particular with the City of Westminster), has produced a greater understanding of the components of the drug market, some impact on the quality of life issues for West End communities, an impressive number of judicial disposals for drug supply crimes, and no discernible impact on the market.

  1.5  Similarly Operation Welwyn in Kings Cross, which has run for eight years, has found that test-purchase operations, which are both resource-intensive and dangerous, followed by mass arrest phases, have made no discernible difference to drug supply in the Kings Cross area. Indeed, open drug dealing continues in prominent locations.

  1.6  Finally, research demonstrates that problematic, dependent drug and alcohol use is usually a symptom of more complex and entrenched social problems, a form of self-medication for the ills experienced by those who are socially excluded: truants and pupils excluded from school, the homeless, people who have spent time in the care or protection of social services. It is important to recognise that the demand side of the drugs market will not be undermined until a significant impact is made on these issues.

  1.7  The criminal nature of the market has serious adverse effects on our objectives:

    —  Generates large cash profits for criminals;

    —  Creates negative role model for young people of financial self-advancement by criminal activity;

    —  Trade is carried on in streets followed by early injection or smoking of drugs and dumping of drugs detritus, including needles, all regarded by our residents as highly anti-social;

    —  Trade is also carried on from domestic premises, particularly on social housing estates, causing fear and concern to other residents;

    —  Seeking cash for drugs generates aggressive begging and petty theft.


  2.1  Having agreed the aims of drug policy, it is clear that some aspects of it are irrelevant to Camden's situation. Policies relating to the legal status of cannabis, for example, or the reclassification of ecstasy have no effect on the drug problems experienced within Camden. We are aware that cannabis use is widespread among our communities (recent school surveys show that at least one third of Camden schoolchildren have used cannabis by the age of 15), and we are clear that any efforts to reduce this use will not make any significant contribution to our agreed policy aims. The protection of vulnerable young people is more likely to be achieved through preventing social exclusion, than through the continuation of policies around recreational drugs that are largely ignored and almost impossible to enforce. We support the National Drug Strategy's focus on the drugs that do most harm, and targeted police activity in Camden is almost exclusively aimed at the heroin and crack markets. We recommend that drug policy is brought in line with what is, in practice, the "decriminalisation" of recreational drug use. A regulated legal market in these drugs would eliminate criminal profits in these areas and reduce the risk of injury or death from badly formulated or wrongly self-administered ecstasy, although easier availability could increase usage, and the Committee should consider carefully the balance of advantage.

  2.2  Similarly, police targets that concentrate on the number of judicial disposals achieved for drug offences are not helpful. We have concrete evidence that increasing judicial disposals for drug supply, which usually involves expensive test-purchase operations, has no discernible impact on the market at borough level. The quality of life for communities affected by drug markets can be significantly improved by high-visibility community policing which, at the least, discourages open public drug dealing and drug use. We strongly recommend that police targets be reviewed to promote enforcement activity that supports the aims of drug policy.

  2.3  Given the failure over several years, and across numerous agencies and countries, to have any significant effect on the supply side of the drug market, we feel it is time to consider seriously the option of undercutting the illicit market with a regulated legal market. However, we recognise the political difficulties in achieving this, particularly as benefits would only be realised if this were achieved on an international level. We therefore recommend the alternative route of managing the market by ensuring that a legal supply of injectable drugs is provided through the health service, with the provision of indoor space in which drugs, both legal and illegal, can be injected safely, and where trained professionals can offer access to appropriate and effective health and social care services. This should be backed up by more pro-active police efforts to discourage street dealing and linked anti-social street behaviour. While we feel that this will only "tinker with the edges" of the supply side, it will serve to reduce drug related crime significantly as well as improving the quality of life of both drug using and non-drug-using members of our communities.

  2.4  Finally, any policies that reduce social exclusion will help to address the demand side of the market and will support stated policy aims both in terms of protecting vulnerable young people and in improving the quality of life for those already involved in problematic drug use. To this end, we support the recent investment in schemes designed to minimise the effects of social exclusion in early life (eg SureStart, Connexions and the development and resourcing of Young People's Substance Misuse Plans). We also recommend that the forward strategy of the Rough Sleepers Unit focus on the street population as a whole (rather than just those sleeping on the streets), who are involved in both the demand and supply side of drug markets, and are in need of support to improve their health and general quality of life as well as clear discouragement of the anti-social nature of their behaviour.


  3.1  The Council would be pleased to provide the opportunity for members of the Committee to observe first hand the nature and extent of the problems confronted by the local community and visitors either by means of a visit to (say) the Kings Cross area or by viewing videotapes provided by CCTV.

  3.2  The Council would welcome the opportunity to provide further evidence orally to the Committee.

September 2001

9   Home Office Drug Prevention Advisory Service comparisons based on the analysis of Drug Action Teams Annual Reports 2000-2001. Back

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