Ruth Wyner and John Brock were jailed for a total of nine years after eight people were caught supplying heroin at the day centre they ran in Cambridge. Ms Wyner, 49, who has worked with homeless people for over 20 years, ran the Winter Comfort homeless centre in Cambridge with Mr Brock, 49. They now face Christmas and New Year in prison while they appeal against the sentence.
Jon Fitzmaurice, chief executive of the National Homeless Alliance, said that the test case had far-reaching implications. "People running hostels may now find it easier to turn drug users away rather than risk jail," he said.
Amid scenes of uproar at a packed Cambridge Crown Court, Judge Jonathan Haworth told the pair that they had created "a haven for heroin dealers" at the drop-in centre.
The centre had a policy of banning suspected drug users or dealers but had a confidentiality rule, designed to protect staff and build trust with vulnerable people, which meant that offenders' names could not be given to the police.
Judge Haworth said that the defendants' implementation of the confidentiality rule kept them from effectively removing dealers and made them responsible for the trafficking on their premises.
Heroin use had been rife at the centre during the period of February to May 1998, when the offence took place, the court heard. A police undercover operation was mounted after the centre was pinpointed as the key link in a supply chain of heroin in Cambridge.
Dr George Reid, senior bursar of St John's College, Cambridge, said that the criminalisation of the pair was devastating. "They were just carrying out the charity's policy," he said.