Addicted son of minister `could have been saved'

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The Independent Online
THE DEATH this week of Hugh McCartney, son of the Cabinet Office minister Ian McCartney, seemed inevitable. The black sheep of the family, he had been a heroin user for several years. Typically, one in a hundred users dies annually.

But according to those who knew him, Hugh McCartney's life could have been saved if the authorities had been quicker to act.

Mr McCartney, 23, was released last week from prison in Glasgow, where he had been serving a four-month sentence for a dishonesty conviction. There was nothing much new about this experience for him. Although neighbours said he was quiet and kept to himself, he had been in trouble on a number of occasions since he was a teenager. Remembered as a chaotic character, he had been convicted of several other drug offences and of theft to feed his habit. In prison he was treated, receiving prescriptions for methadone, a heroin substitute. But by the time he was out he had been required to go "cold turkey" and was receiving no methadone.

Technically, he was off drugs, but with no girlfriend on the outside to help him and little support or back-up from the probation services, he was still an addict without a methadone prescription.

A week later he was dead, having gone back to his suppliers of heroin. Unaccustomed to the drug after several months, it would have been easy to take too much.

He should not have been left without methadone - since last year Scottish prisons are supposed to ensure continuity of care using it. Many are still failing to do so.

Hugh McCartney then asked Glasgow City Council to move him out of his run-down tenement block in MacDuff Street on a derelict estate in east end of the city, where only four of the 18 flats had not been boarded up. He moved there about two years ago to be near his mother.

He said he felt suicidal and feared for his safety because of rowdy neighbours and the prevalence of drugs. Drug experts yesterday highlighted the significance of his request, saying that it is vital to keep addicts out of drug ghettos to give them a chance to go clean. The council confirmed his request. They could understand it.

The overgrown garden outside Mr McCartney's two-room flat is littered with broken bottles, soft-drink cans, sweet wrappers and the remains of a toilet cistern. The graffiti-daubed block is due for demolition later this year.

But the council's plans to transfer him were implemented too slowly. Yesterday workman boarded up the flat, leaving just three occupied.

Near by, taxis were still pulling up regularly as drug users stopped briefly to buy from dealers.

Hugh McCartney was his father's only son, the third child after Karen, 30, and Yvonne, 27. Ian McCartney married Hugh's mother, Jean, in 1969 and the couple divorced in 1986.

Hugh McCartney's Scots-born politician father is Labour MP for Makerfield, in the north-west of England, so the opportunities to visit his family were limited after they moved back to Glasgow from Lancashire. He remarried in 1988.

However, they kept in touch and Mr McCartney speaks proudly about his grandchildren. He was just back from holiday seeing his three children, according to Phil Woolas, a neighbouring Labour MP and close friend.

Much effort had been spent on pulling Hugh back from the abyss.

Jean McCartney, who lives 300 yards away in a neat cul-de-sac, visited him regularly, walking her terriers to his top-floor flat.

It was she who found her son dead at 10 o'clock in the morning. Police say there are no suspicious circumstances.