Jailing of charity workers may force shelters to turn away drug suspects

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The Independent Online
CHARITY WORKERS who run shelters are more likely to turn away those with drug problems after the jailing of two people who had dedicated their lives to helping the homeless, it was warned yesterday.

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. Wyner, 49, who has worked with homeless people for more than 20 years, ran the Wintercomfort homeless centre in Cambridge with 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 also had a confidentiality rule, designed to protect staff and build trust with vulnerable people, which meant that offenders' names would 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.

Sentencing Wyner, Judge Haworth told her: "As director you were responsible for the implementation of policy and ensuring it was enforced. Your own beliefs meant you disqualified yourself from the most obvious means of securing the removal of dealers, by calling the police."

He told Brock: "You are equally responsible for what has happened and the only additional mitigating feature of your case is that you felt bound to Ruth Wyner's policy of not calling in the police, even though in your heart of hearts you may have queried its validity."

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.

Wyner said earlier this week that she had not been able to imagine what prison was like. "In my mind, I simply cannot get past the strip search," she said. "The rest of it is just guessing. We drove past Holloway recently and it looks terrifying. I don't think there can be a worse time to be separated from those that you love, especially this Christmas and this New Year. It feels like a very bitter pill for society to give me after working so hard with homeless people for so long."