Keith Hellawell's unenviable task that ended in frustration

Click to follow

"I have never seen myself as someone riding in on a white charger to change the world," declared Keith Hellawell as he climbed out of the saddle as head of the Government's anti-drugs campaign yesterday.

Only three years into his own ten-year strategy, it was hard to reconcile his contention that "my work is now complete" with the expectation that surrounded his appointment.

By his own admission yesterday, cocaine use in Britain is rising, while heroin addiction has spread through country areas and urban estates during his time in the post. London police officers complain that the capital is "awash" with crack.

Mr Hellawell – faced with the muscle of the global drugs industry – had an unenviable task. Ministers anxious for news of victories in the "drugs war" quickly became impatient with his insistence on long-term solutions. He admitted yesterday: "Some friends have said it was a no-win job. If it went right, ministers would claim credit; if it went wrong, my head would roll."

Mr Hellawell, who left his Yorkshire secondary school at 15 to work in a pit before embarking on a career that made him one of the country's best-known police officers, beat off competition from 250 candidates to be made the UK's first, and probably only, National Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator.

His credentials were strong. A former Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, he had been the Association of Chief Police Officers' spokesman on drugs issues for a decade. But, after countless hours investigating the links between drugs and criminality, he became convinced that the "hardline" police approach should be replaced with an emphasis on driving down demand by educating young people on the dangers of substance misuse.

As drugs tsar, his £106,000 pay packet made him the government's highest-paid adviser. He said yesterday that he was paid that figure as Chief Constable and so had merely retained his police salary.

Mr Hellawell, 59, will continue to advise the government on "international drug-related issues". The details, including remuneration, of the part-time role have yet to be finalised.

He rejected suggestions yesterday that he had been placed under too much pressure by Labour ministers who had "overhyped" the importance of his role. Instead, he said the media was responsible for unduly raised expectations. The charge surprised journalists who recalled being summoned by Government officials to the Trocadero centre in the West End of London for the spectacular launch of his strategy.

As he defended his record yesterday, Mr Hellawell said there would never be a time when people were not addicted to substances and when other people were not profiting from those addictions.

"I never said – ever, ever, ever – that we would resolve this problem," he said. "What I did say was that we could make a difference."