Steel's son avoided cannabis dealers to 'protect his father'

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The Independent Online

Scotland Correspondent

After Graeme Steel, the son of the former Liberal leader Sir David Steel, was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment yesterday, his lawyer George More said Graeme would find the sentence "hard". Not just because he would have to serve his time in Edinburgh's notorious Saughton prison, but also because for many years Steel, 29, had campaigned for the legalisation of cannabis.

Like many amateur cannabis growers who escape the attentions of the police, Steel believed the drug was less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. In his cottage in the Scottish Borders, he led a self-sufficient "good life" with his girlfriend, Lynne Turnball.

The couple grew vegetables and did not drink or smoke cigarettes, but instead chose cannabis.

Steel told friends that he had decided to grow the drug, rather than buy it from local suppliers, because of his father's high public profile.

After police discovered 40 cannabis plants - worth up to pounds 30,000 if harvested and sold - growing under plastic sheeting when they raided his home, he told officers he was concerned about damaging his father's reputation.

At his trial his lawyer, Derek Ogg, explained: "He was worried that any reports he was buying cannabis on the street would get out and reflect badly on his father." Yesterday, however, his actions severely embarrassed Sir David, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, and his wife, Lady Steel. Neither parent turned up at the hearing.

This was not, after all, the first time one of their sons had appeared in court. In 1987 Steel was fined pounds 50 at Selkirk Sheriff Court for assaulting a police officer outside a nightclub in Galashiels.

He was cleared of assaulting a bouncer and of breaching the peace in the same incident.

Prosecution witnesses said a fight developed after Steel was refused entry to the club because he was wearing torn jeans and boots. Earlier, in 1985, Graeme was ordered to do 75 hours community work for his part in a shop raid in which cigarettes, lager and groceries were stolen.

Selkirk Sheriff Court was told that Steel was living away from the family home in Ettrick Bridge when the break-in took place. He and another youth admitted breaking into the shop in Galashiels and stealing pounds 300 of cigarettes, cans of lager, pounds 20 in cash, and food worth a total of pounds 16.

Sir David and Lady Steel's adopted son William, an actor, has also appeared before the courts. Four years ago he was banned from driving for three years and fined pounds 200 after pleading guilty to failing to take a breath test at a police station.

William was arrested after the car he was driving was involved in an accident on the A1 near Edinburgh. Passing sentence, the judge, Sheriff John Watt, said that he had no choice but to impose a disqualification since William had a previous conviction for a similar offence. In a separate incident in London, he was fined pounds 50 for disorderly behaviour.