This week: should I rat on these drug-dealers?

Pam's neighbours are very friendly. They take in parcels, and sent her son a card when he was ill. However, the whole street seems to know they are drug-dealers, and kids queue up outside their door. Should Pam report them?

"Miss! Miss! Donna's writing on her desk!" "Sir! Sir! I saw Jimmy Parker smoking in break!" "Comrade Sergei, my neighbour is not a good Communist; he is selling vegetables secretly at night!"

It's the age-old problem, and it's never easy to work out the fine line between being a sneaky grass, a tell-tale tit whose tongue shall be slit, and an upright, honest member of society who is brave enough to do her duty. People who ring Crimewatch to solve appalling crimes, often at risk to their own safety, are applauded; people who tip off police about a neighbour getting into his car drunk are thought to be just a wee bit too smug. Then there's the Freephone you can ring if you know your neighbour is fiddling social security. While it's seen as fine to race off down the road after a thief shouting your head off, to make a secret call about someone who is also taking your money, albeit indirectly, is seen as a little bit nasty.

Pam has to think of all aspects of what's going next door. First, does the fact that they are pleasant neighbours make one iota of difference to what they get up to? Hitler was apparently kind to small children and dogs; the Krays gave vast sums to charity. Does taking in parcels and sending the odd get well card add up in goodness to the evil that they are presumably spreading by peddling drugs? Does the daily sunshine that they spread outweigh the nightly darkness?

Next she must work out whether indeed they are so very bad. Drug-dealing may be against the law, but there are different types of drug dealers. Do they do a brisk trade in soft drugs only? Or do they spend days in the park trying to cajole small schoolchildren to try crack? Obviously, if Pam has a relative or friend who is an addict or knows anyone who has been harmed by illegal drugs she will herself take a harder line than someone whose only experience of drugs has been social dope-smoking and the odd thrilling evening on something more potent at birthdays and Christmas, as it were. A high-up policeman I know is all for small-time dealers in soft drugs. "Keeps them off the streets," he says. "In many areas it can be quite a respectable little industry, like mending shoes, or selling sandwiches." Drug-dealers, too, are more and more common in big cities. When, my eyes wide and bulging with horrified astonishment, I told friends that I knew where a drug-dealer lived in our street, I felt a bit squashed when they revealed they had two in their street, or even three. Are drug- dealers news any more? Dare I say it, but would the police even be particularly interested, if they're law-abiding in other ways and cause no trouble? Do the police, perhaps, already know, and have they simply decided that in this case time would be better spent going after bigger fish?

What I would do myself, is relax about it all. But if I happened to meet a friendly policeman I'd ask if he knew what was going on and ask his advice. He would almost certainly say he'd look into it, and somehow the whole thing would fizzle out, probably because he'd want more co-operation from me than I was prepared to give. But Pam has her own agenda about drugs and how destructive they are. And all I can do is give her a few points to ponder before she makes a decisionn

What readers say

Get to know these people better

In the two years that you have known these people you say you have experienced them as kind, considerate and trustworthy.

Unfortunately I have had a long and close personal experience of living with a dealer and it was hell. However, this was connected to his personality generally, and the type of drugs that were taken/sold - it was a chaotic and miserably unhappy life.

My suggestion is that you could get to know the woman a little better and see if she is happy. If so, then I suggest that they must be dealing in cannabis - increasingly regarded as no worse than alcohol or tobacco. Heavier drugs have strong effects on mood and behaviour - if people are consistent and "together" it's unlikely they are abusing heavy drugs, and I think you should let them lead their lives.

If she is not happy, even then, I wouldn't involve the police, but rather help her if possible to get out.

The outward signs seem to point to people who are stable, organised, friendly and careful. Please don't betray their trust unless you know the facts and these facts suggest serious danger to someone.

A Well-Wisher

Only a wimp would ignore this problem

I wonder whether Pam feels quite so "sincerely" having her letter printed in the same issue as the feature "Ecstasy and Leah Betts: the bouncer's tale". Your answer, Pam, surely comes loud and clear in the face of a dying 18-year-old Leah Betts and the emotion-filled words of her father, Paul.

In reply, then, to your rather wimpish (to paraphrase, if I may) "my neighbours are nothing but kind to me but I think they sell drugs: what should I do?" I offer Paul Betts' words about the bouncer: "He knew who was supplying drugs but never stopped it."

Patrick Coombs (The Revd),

Paignton, Devon.

Don't betray your friends

I had a friend who was similarly torn between her morals and her friendship.

After a lot of thought, she decided she should call the police, in the best interests of her children. However, not a day has gone by when she hasn't regretted it. Her choice was one she was pressured into by society. A society that proclaimed all drug dealers to be evil. This is so wrong. If these people are as kind and caring as you say they are, your friendship is not worth destroying. You should be grateful for the kindness they have shown and not throw it back in their faces. They are just a family attempting to support themselves by any means they can. You can hardly blame them for that.

Alice Hart-George

London SW18

Report them anonymously

A phone call to the police can be perfectly anonymous; and you could alert them to a danger that "the whole street" seems to have identified.

Of course, criminals are kind to their mothers and innocent neighbours; they are vulnerable human beings, as well as vampires to their afflicted clients.

You would not want your sweet son to be a target of their trade on the strength of their "get well" card. And you wouldn't want them to conceal drugs in your home - which they could easily do with the friendly spare key. So first, retrieve your spare key, for a sudden visit from your own mother or friend.

A decade ago I lived next door to a prostitute who, as a hapless neighbour, was welcome to my home, as were her three children "in care". Only when her drug dealing became clear, did I realise her situation and hence my own.

Trust the police not to reveal your identity and stop this suspected evil in your neighbourhood, without any repercussions to yourself and family.

Anne Crocker, Bath

Next week's problem: My mother has the key to our flat

Dear Virginia,

Ever since I was ill 10 years ago my mother has had the key to my flat. She didn't use it for years, but now that I'm married and we have a baby, she has taken to coming round and letting herself in any time she wants.

At first we said nothing, because she obviously wanted to see her grandchild as much as possible, but now the baby's 18 months old and my wife feels she wants time to herself - and some privacy. Sometimes she gets back from the park to find my mother already bustling about in the kitchen.

If I asked for the key back my mother would be terribly upset, but how can I tell her we don't want her using our flat as a second home - and that we don't want to see so much of her? Does anyone else have a similar problem?

I love her and don't want to hurt her, but when I get back in the evenings my wife's often desperate with having had to chat to my mother for hours on end.

Yours sincerely, Hugh

Readers' comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293-2182). If you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

* The next Dilemmas page will appear in two weeks' time.