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Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 02:14 GMT
Hellawell: No going soft on drugs

Hellawell and drugs Keith Hellawell pictured with some of the seized drugs

The UK's drugs czar, Keith Hellawell, is to insist the government has not "gone soft" on drugs and is determined to break the link between drugs and narcotics.

His comments come 10 days after he said the police should stop pursuing cannabis users and focus on hard drugs.

Mr Hellawell is to appear at Customs and Excise's National Investigation Service office in central London on Wednesday to report on successes in combating drugs smuggling.

The Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo, is expected to congratulate Customs, who seized drugs with a total street value of 710m in 1998.

In his speech the government's anti-drugs co-ordinator will say: "There is no question of the government going soft on drugs. It has consistently shown a full commitment to tackling the complex problems associated with drug misuse."

In 1998 Mr Hellawell set out a 10-year strategy designed to break the link between drugs and crime. The government has underpinned it with an additional 250m over three years.

710m worth of drugs were seized by Customs last year
He will say: "One of the key performance targets of the strategy is to reduce drug-related crime by 25% by 2005 and 50% by 2008."

The 10-year anti-drugs strategy includes:

  • The introduction of a minimum sentence of seven years for those convicted of a third offence of supplying Class A drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

  • Proposals to extend drug testing to identify offenders who are committing crime in order to buy drugs.

  • The piloting of Drug Treatment and Testing Orders to force offenders to take detoxification treatment.

  • A 20m joint initiative with the police to accelerate the development of arrest referral schemes.

  • Mr Hellawell wants police to deprioritise cannabis users
    Mr Hellawell will say: "Although we are only two years into the strategy, I am already pleased to note some early indications which suggest that the government's policies are already having a positive effect."

    He is due to give these examples:

  • A reduction in the rate of positive mandatory drug tests in prisons from 24% in 1996/97 to 18% in 1998/99.

  • The average number of crimes committed by offenders on the Drug Treatment and Testing Orders fell by up to 90%.

  • Independent research suggesting the number of 14 and 15-year-olds who experimented with illegal substances fell from 32% in 1996 to 26% in 1998.

    Mr Hellawell will say combating drugs was a huge task and people should not expect overnight results.

    But he adds: ""The progress to date is encouraging and I am convinced that the commitment, co-operation and willingness to work together at national and local level will help to create a healthier and safer society."

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