You ask the questions; (Such as: drugs tsar Keith Hellawell, what would you do if you discovered your children were smoking dope?)

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Keith Hellawell, 56, started his working life as a coal miner before joining Huddersfield Borough Police. During his 36-year career in the police service he was awarded the Queen's Police Medal for Distinguished Service in 1990, rising through the ranks to become Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police in 1993. In January 1998 he took up his current position as UK Anti-drugs Co-ordinator, charged with co-ordinating an anti-drugs strategy across 110 government drug-action teams.

Do you believe that prostitution is linked to drugs?

Unfortunately, yes, many young women are prostituting themselves to feed their drug habit, some from their very early teens. Street agencies estimate that more than half of the "working women" have a serious drug misuse problem and that their work and drug misuse are inextricably linked. I have spoken out against describing the most vulnerable as prostitutes, as I regard them as victims and not offenders.

If you believe that locking drug dealers up is not a solution, how do you propose to punish them?

I do believe that drug dealers ought to be locked up, many of them for a considerable period of time. However, many people are dealing drugs to feed their own drug habit, and I consider that where their criminality is caused by addiction they must be treated as well if we are to reduce long-term criminality. Treatment and enforcement, not treatment or enforcement is where I stand.

Do you have children? What would you do if you discovered they were taking drugs?

Three children, six grandchildren. Fortunately none have been involved, partly because we have discussed the issue with them from a very young age. If they had, however, I would have discussed the subject with them as dispassionately as I could, and were they addicted, seek help from our GP or a specialist drug service such as the National Drugs Helpline (0800 776600).

Do you despise drug users and dealers? If not, what do you feel towards them?

I have a repugnance for dealers who are happy to benefit from the misery of others. Many are extremely cruel people who subject their clients to violence. Addicts often sell drugs themselves in order to pay for their habits and avoid violence at the hands of their suppliers. There are many categories of users. There are those with a genuine illness who use drugs to alleviate their pain. The Government has licensed research into the medicinal properties of cannabis to establish the validity of using it to help in the relief of pain. I have, however, little time for those users who believe it is their right to flout the law by using drugs regardless of the consequences.

How can parents help you to tackle drugs in schools?

Parents have a major part to play; firstly, in the home. I have met parents who have lost children to drugs who feel guilty they did not do more. Others feel inadequate and wish to know more. That is why the Government has published the Parents Guide to Drugs and Alcohol and has set up a website (http:www. trashed.co.uk). Parents also have an important role to play with teachers in schools. The Government's financial support to be directed to drugs education over the next three years highlights the partnership between teachers, parents and youth workers. It is this integrated approach which will make an impact.

If drivers could be tested to see if they were under the influence, would you agree to the legalisation of cannabis? If not, why not?

There are two parts to this question and I cannot really see the link. However, 18 per cent of all drivers killed on our roads have illicit drugs in their body, more than half of them cannabis. Scientific research confirms that cannabis can damage people's ability to carry out many types of tasks including driving and using machinery and that is why we are developing better testing devices for the police. Along with other, more long-term health risks associated with the use of cannabis, the risks involved in legislation far outweigh the arguments in its favour.

How do you think your experience as Chief Constable for West Yorkshire can help you to tackle the drug problems of an entire nation?

As Chief Constable I spent much of my time listening to the problems of the community. I saw at first hand the damage drugs caused, whether through deaths, criminality or violence. I represented the police service nationally on the subject of drugs. I was a member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and helped develop a partnership approach with other agencies with prevention and treatment backgrounds. I advised the Government on many drug issues. Internationally I advised other countries on drugs policies and represented the UK on many occasions. My previous jobs afforded me first-hand experience at all levels.

How did you move from mining into the police force?

I always wanted to be a police officer. When my wife and I decided to marry, I left the pit to join the police as it was a much more secure job, although less well paid, but we were allocated a free police house.

Do you find that your former colleagues are supportive of your current role, or are they jealous?

They are supportive. Many encouraged me to apply for this job as I had represented their views on drugs for a number of years. However, the police service is a competitive profession and I suspect it will not be immune from jealousies, which will undoubtedly include me.

What do you think of Amsterdam's answer to their drug problem?

It's not really an answer. They describe the Drug Cafes as an experiment, one with which they are having problems. Over-the-counter, take-away purchasers of small quantities of cannabis, particularly for use in other countries, has led the Dutch government to harden its policy. Their policy of tolerating possession for personal use is also being severely stretched by the cafe owners who hold large amounts. Their suppliers, who are major dealers, use Holland as a base for their international activity with some impunity.

The government believes it is giving out the wrong message to young people about Ecstasy (ie that it is safe and it is not a criminal offence to take the drug). In future, information about the damaging effects of the drug will be handed out if and when pills are tested. Their treatment programmes for heroin users are having a very positive effect in reducing the number of addicts.

Questions submitted by:

Elizabeth Goddard, Norwich

Steve Menary, Kew, London

Sean Linehan, Highgate, London

Colin Muir, Ipswich

Naomi Wilkes, Reigate

Francesca Latham, Northallerton, North Yorkshire

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