Taxpayer finances Italian's drug stay

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

BRITISH taxpayers paid pounds 4,500 to keep an Italian heroin addict in one of Europe's leading drugs clinics, an outraged magistrate complained yesterday.

Roberto Piha, 31, was also getting a pounds 200-a-week allowance from his family on top of his pounds 58-a-week social security while living rent-free on housing benefit in London.

But despite his costly six-week stay at the exclusive Clouds House clinic in Wiltshire, Piha was soon back on heroin and out stealing to finance the habit, Horseferry Road court in London was told.

'He is living on social security, getting housing benefit and spent six weeks at Clouds House, one of the finest places of its kind in Europe, which is hugely expensive - and it's all paid for by the state,' said the magistrate Roger Davies.

'I read it costs almost pounds 750 a week to keep someone there. Why doesn't he go to Italy and sort his problems out there?'

Philip Eldin-Taylor, for the defence, said Piha wanted to cure his heroin problem and felt treatment available in Britain was more likely to be successful than in Italy.

'Yes, because he gets it free here,' Mr Davies suggested.

Piha, who is unemployed, admitted stealing a pounds 69 Giro cheque on 21 August from the communal mailbox at a house in Warwick Road, Earl's Court, where he still has his rent-free flat.

Mr Davies had sentenced Piha to 150 hours' community service in June for a similar offence, after hearing that he was about to go into the Clouds House clinic. But two months later, he was under the influence of drugs when he was stopped and searched by police minutes after he stole the cheque.

Placing him on probation for a year, Mr Davies told Piha: 'This is positively your last chance . . . There will be no more sympathy from this court.'