Letwin's 'hug a druggie' speech attacked

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The Conservative Party's gaffe-prone policy chairman, Oliver Letwin, was accused of adopting a "hug a druggie" policy yesterday after he claimed pushers were victims as well as villains.

Mr Letwin told a conference fringe meeting that drug rehabilitation services must be improved to help users, including dealers, to tackle their addictions and thereby dismantle the pyramid of the narcotics trade.

He said: "The pusher is the person who is the most direct cause but many pushers are also actually, as well as miscreants, victims because they themselves are parts of pyramids in which they are both users and sellers."

His remark echoed David Cameron's "hug a hoodie" comment about the need to understand disaffected teenagers. Mr Letwin said efforts by previous governments to stem the flow of drugs had failed and far greater emphasis had to be placed on reducing the "demand side of the equation".

"It is absolutely critical to understand that the person who is on what is probably a cocktail of alcohol and cannabis and amphetamines and heroin is the victim not the miscreant," he added. "It may lead to misdeeds but it is ... a state of being a victim."

Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister, said Mr Letwin had "broadened the Tory policy from 'hug a hoodie' to 'hug a pusher'."