The Narcotics Menace: Force lifts users out of criminality: Police policy has put Merseyside at the top of the league for registered addicts. Jonathan Foster reports

MERSEYSIDE has 4,000 registered heroin addicts, a user-population density 158 per cent higher than the average in England and Wales and twice as high as the next largest, in north-west London.

The reason, according to police, and health and social services agencies in Merseyside, is that many of their drug abusers have been taken out of secrecy and criminality and put into clinics, not court.

Every registered addict represents a clean needle, a potentially stabilised habit. HIV infection is rare on Merseyside, a quarter of the national average and only 7 per cent of that in north-west London. In Scotland, the number of heroin addicts is virtually the same as the incidence of HIV, 24 times greater than in Merseyside.

'There has been a steady growth in registered addicts to the point where we have the highest per capita rate in the UK,' Superintendent Derek O'Connell, head of the region's drug squad, said. 'We've reached people who needed to be reached, to be treated and counselled.'

Merseyside changed its strategy in 1987, persuading the regional health authority to provide extra resources and becoming the first force to champion the clean-syringe campaign.

'The heroin problem has stabilised and treatment rates are up,' Supt O'Connell said. 'The crime rate also peaked in 1987 and, since 1991, it has dipped below the national average.'

However, Merseyside has an increasing cocaine habit, as well as abuse of amphetamines and ecstasy. Supt O'Connell believes that it is in schools, and from the efforts of teachers, that the greatest preventive impact can in future be made on the prime age group for drug abuse, 16- to 19- year-olds.

The police and Liverpool education authority have agreed a new set of guidelines for schools, including a four-year long element in the curriculum.

'You can't put all your eggs in one basket. We have transposed the problem from a criminal one to a criminal- medical-educational problem,' Supt O'Connell said.

Merseyside's drug squad is not demanding government action on the drug problem. The 40 officers believe they have sufficient powers and the optimum strategy, including cautions for first-time offenders. Between 900- 1,000 first-time arrests a year are released with a caution, and research by Liverpool University revealed that 76 per cent commit no further offence.

Decriminalisation is not in the squad's vocabulary, but those seeking treatment are protected, and those straying experimentally over the threshold of legality are treated sympathetically.

'We look at the individual, and what can be done with the individual,' Supt O'Connell said. 'We try to encourage the first-time offender to take responsibility.'

Rather than treat users harshly, Merseyside prefers to target the dealers, and few forces have matched its record of spectacular raids. Only the Metropolitan police make more arrests and seizures.

Sergeant Alan Connor, of the Merseyside squad, said: 'We've developed smashing relationships with customs and the regional crime squad, who target the really big operators while we concentrate on the middle tier.'

The squad, which operates from anonymous headquarters in Kirkby, is usually immersed in four or five major investigations.

'It means researching their activities, monitoring their movements, seeing if they're living in a mansion while on the dole,' Sgt Connor said.

'Only when we've researched them thoroughly, will we put them under surveillance - it costs pounds 3,000 a day.

'The laws and powers are good. The only problem we have is with unused material, every scrap of paper and piece of tape which is not required for the prosecution but which the defence has to see.'

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up