Police want to caution drug dealers

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Crime Correspondent

More novice drug dealers will be cautioned rather than prosecuted under radical proposals being considered by the police, it was revealed yesterday.

The scheme, which would require legislation, would allow the police to give out more cautions to drug users on the condition they obtain medical help or counselling. The proposal, which was supported in principle by chief constables yesterday, is aimed at diverting young drug-takers and dealers away from the courts.

Also included in a package of measures recommended at the Association of Chief Police Officers' autumn conference in Coventry were plans for greater police involvement in drug education in schools.

Children as young as four need to learn of the dangers of drugs, the conference heard. Chief constables were told that education authorities and the police needed to draw up national guidelines because in some schools there was evidence that children had been encouraged, rather than discouraged, to take illegal substances after being told about them by the police and drug agencies.

The police also intend to encourage teachers, parents, college and university heads to report drug trends to them.

The recommendations were the result of a 12-month inquiry by the ACPO drugs sub-committee. Keith Hellawell, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire and the committee's chairman, said: "We need to find ways of diverting first time offenders, particularly children from the court system."

He said yesterday that one way of achieving that aim, while attempting to wean young people away from drugs, was to have new cautioning powers. These would force anyone who was cautioned to obtain expert advice or go to a treatment centre. Failure to do so could result in court action or the offender being charge.

Mr Hellawell insisted this was not a "soft" policy or a form of drugs decriminalisation as the caution would still be recorded on the offender's police record. He argued that cautioning was already rising and this measure would be more effective.