Top policeman tipped as Labour's drugs tsar

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The Government is to appoint a US-style "drugs tsar" to co-ordinate government, police and intelligence activity and lead a new crusade against the narcotics trade and drug abuse.

The move will be approved this week by a high-powered Cabinet sub-committee which includes Home Secretary Jack Straw and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, to be chaired by the Leader of the House of Commons, Ann Taylor.

The decision to appoint a powerful figure to spearhead the anti-drugs crusade marks a big departure for government and borrows heavily on American experience. The front-runner for the job is Ian Oliver, the 57-year-old chief constable of the Grampian police region, who has advocated random drugs tests in workplaces.

Mr Oliver, seen as a hard-liner on drugs, has had a highly successful police career. In 1979, at 39, he became the youngest chief constable in Scotland's history when he took control of Central Region. Last November he publicly backed Labour's "drugs tsar" plan; in a speech to the Law Society at Aberdeen University, he said: "It is necessary to have a clear government mandate to co-ordinate all efforts to bring about demand reduction, cultural reform and effective interdiction of the criminal manipulators."

However, Downing Street sources said last week that an appointment had not yet been made, and the position would be filled under the criteria laid down by Lord Nolan.

Before the election, Tony Blair promised to "appoint a figurehead in the battle against drugs, someone who will both lead the fight against drugs and help educate young people not to take them. The appointment of such a figure would signal the determination of the government that it was not prepared to tolerate a waste of young lives".

The new drugs supremo will have the power to call together police, intelligence, customs and excise, social services educationalists, the prison and probation services and health boards. He or she will report directly to the Cabinet sub-committee.

Government figures show that the number of people convicted of drugs- related offences has more than trebled over the last decade to 93,000 last year. The number of drugs seizures has risen four-fold to 115,000 annually. Meanwhile the number of notified addicts has doubled since 1986 to 37,000.

However, government sources have been careful not to set out targets for the reduction of drug-related crime or the number of seizures. Officials recognise the difficulties to be faced in making a breakthrough in the battle against drugs.