Crime: `Tsar' Hellawell rules out legalisation of drugs

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The Independent Online
The country's first drugs "tsar" was formally appointed yesterday. But as Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, discovers, there are worries that he lack the funds to make the initiative a success.

A national debate on the use of drugs won the support of the "tsar" yesterday, but any question of decriminalisation or legalisation were rejected.

Keith Hellawell, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, and the police chief's spokesman on drugs, said his first task was to draw up a national strategy for dealing with the burgeoning problem.

Considered a controversial, but forward thinking person, Mr Hellawell said he was confident that he could make a real impact in his pounds 102,000- a-year role as UK Anti-drugs Co-ordinator.

Drug agencies yesterday welcomed the initiative but criticised the lack of funding.

The appointment coincided with the publication of Home Office figures that show the number of registered drug addicts increased last year by 17 per cent to 43,400 - although this is only a tiny proportion of users. New addicts aged under 21 rose by a third and the number of drug related deaths rose to about 1,800 in 1995, up by about 180 on the previous year.

Mr Hellawell, 55, who has hit the headlines with ideas such as legalising brothels, said he welcomed discussions about soft drugs. "The debate on decriminalisation has gone on for some time. I'm happy for the debate to go on, but it needs to be informed," he said.

He added: "All that I have seen over the years about that debate has led me to believe that decriminalisation or legalisation would not help."

Ann Taylor, chair of the Cabinet sub-committee on drugs, said that the three key objectives for the forthcoming strategy were to reduce drug supply, health risks and demand amongst young people.

Mr Hellawell will be aided by his deputy Michael Trace, 36, currently Director of the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners' Trust, and a staff of six.

The drug chief will have direct access to the Prime Minister but no new money.

Mike Goodman, director of Release, the drugs and legal advice group, said: "It is unfortunate that the Government have refused extra funding for treatment and education and refused to look at the case for reforming the drug laws," he said.

"Regrettably that is like tying the hands of the drugs tsar behind his back."