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Drug addicts 'commit half of property crimes'

DRUG ADDICTS are responsible for about half the country's property crime - stealing about pounds 2bn a year to finance their habits - according to Labour Party figures.

The crime bill costs each household in insurance and extra charges for goods about pounds 114 a year, said Tony Blair, shadow Home Secretary, as he accused the Government of a 'dangerously short-sighted' crime policy which ignored drug abuse among the young.

While Mr Blair underlined Labour's opposition to any legalisation of drugs, the figures he released yesterday - the first linking drugs and crime costs - will be seized upon by those who believe decriminalisation is the only way to stop the crime wave. Senior police officers, judges and lawyers have now joined drug rehabilitation campaigners who say current anti-drug measures have failed.

Nevertheless the Government will not entertain any easing of drug prohibition laws, and yesterday Mr Blair expressed anger at an erroneous suggestion by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, that Labour's Euro MPs were supporting legalisation. He said Conservative MEPs had apologised.

Mr Blair yesterday accepted his very high figures were 'rough', relying upon drugs and crime statistics and a formula first applied by Greater Manchester Police to assess its drug-crime problem. But as a result Labour found:

The number of notified heroin addicts had risen five-fold in 12 years to 22,819 for England and Wales;

That the average drug habit costs about pounds 550- pounds 600 a week;

That the vast majority of drug users admit to financing their habit through crime;

That to make about pounds 100, addicts needed to steal property worth three times that amount.

Other estimates have put the drug-related crime costs significantly lower. Research gathered by probation officers, showing that about a quarter of all people convicted of any offences have a drug problem, would give a figure of about pounds 1bn.

Mr Blair accused the Government of undermining drugs education policy, by cutting visits to schools and youth organisations to warn about crime, at a time when drug abuse among the young had reached 'truly worrying levels'.

A recent survey in Manchester and Merseyside of 800 15- and 16- year-olds revealed that two-thirds had taken drugs. Mr Blair said: 'Any drugs strategy which did not have young people at its centre was no strategy at all.'

He called for a national drugs education programme; greater co- ordination between the Health, Education and Home departments, under one minister; and detailed research into the crime-drugs links.

Yesterday Mr Howard said: 'We are combating drug abuse with an attack from both sides. We are tackling demand with health and drugs education, now included in the national curriculum. And we have some of the toughest laws in Europe so that pushers can be locked up and have their profits confiscated.'

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