Treatment but no jail for first drug offence

ALL FIRST-TIME drug-users caught by police in London will be referred to a treatment centre, rather than face prosecution, under a scheme to be outlined by Scotland Yard today.

The Metropolitan Police estimate 30 per cent of crimes are committed to obtain money for drugs. The initial findings of a survey by police across London found a third of people caught breaking the law to feed their drug habit are shoplifters and 15 per cent are burglars.

Scotland Yard's new drugs directorate, headed by Commander Andy Hayman, plans to set up arrest referral schemes throughout the London area by March 2000. Drug-users will be given the option of treatment and referral to a drug worker rather than a fine, a caution or imprisonment. The scheme is aimed at drug users and will not be offered to dealers. If successful, it could be adopted by forces throughout the country.

The Met hopes the approach will help to break the link between drugs and crime. The force is doing research to discover which offences are most common among drug-users.

The results are expected to be used to target groups and areas. Analysis of 3,500 drug-related offences during a five-month period last year found 1,250 of them were for thefts from shops, 519 for burglary and 153 for theft from cars.

The Met also announces today a pounds 250,000 anti-drugs campaign that will include posters on buses and warnings on matchboxes and beer-mats.Commander Hayman said: "The key message ... is that a high proportion of crime in London is committed by a small number of prolific offenders who misuse drugs. If we can target these individuals and either divert them away from their drug use or put them before the courts, then we can have a dramatic impact on crime across the capital."

r Two doctors have volunteered to run the first official patient trials testing the therapeutic effects of cannabis. Anita Holdcroft, from Hammersmith Hospital, London, will investigate whether the drug or its active components can relieve post-operative pain. A trial investigating its effects on multiple-sclerosis sufferers will be done by John Zajicek, of Derriford Hospital, Plymouth.