Letter: Sentencing and treatment of drug couriers in Britain and abroad

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The Independent Online
Sir: As probation officers in a foreign nationals unit, we interview several hundred people each year who have been arrested at Heathrow for drug trafficking. We prepare reports about them to inform sentencing decisions of the Crown Court.

Our experience confirms the concerns raised by your leading article 'Drug mules in our own jails' (22 July). Most of the people we see have no previous convictions; many claim they have been duped or coerced; many, especially those from developing countries, become involved through dire financial need; all find prosecution and imprisonment so far from home a harrowing experience. However, there is not generally the same level of compassion for them as has been shown towards British drug couriers imprisoned abroad.

Undoubtedly, drug trafficking is a serious offence, but many of those we see are no different to the two recently released from Thailand. John Major's intervention raises the question of how much discretion should be exercised by the courts and the Home Office when dealing with individuals who have been convicted of drug trafficking in this country.

Yours faithfully,

ROSEMARY ABERNETHY

NICK HAMMOND

Middlesex Area Probation Service

Foreign Nationals Unit

Uxbridge,

Middlesex

22 July

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