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Westlake Legal Group > Crime & anti social behaviour

Marshall Tisdale: Scotland’s drug statistics are a call to arms for radical reform

Marshall Tisdale is studying history and politics at Cardiff University.

Scotland was recently shown to have the highest drug death per capita of any other European country, with the rest of the UK having the fifth-highest.

This figure should be a wake-up call, to both the SNP in Scotland and to the Conservatives in Westminster. This needs to be met with a new, radical approach to tackling drug-related issues. That approach should start with two things. Decriminalisation and legalisation.

It is clear by now that the UK’s war on drugs have failed. Consumption is up, overdoses are up, and our prisons are filled with non-violent drug offenders. We cannot carry on with the same old policies and attitudes towards drug use. These were summed up by Boris Johnson in the first leadership hustings in Birmingham a few weeks ago. In answer to a question on the issue of drugs, Johnson’s response was “drugs are bad”.

It bothers me that such a simplistic statement has essentially been the driving force behind policies to deal with one of the most complex issues of the last few decades. ‘Crackdowns’ on drug use is not the solution the country needs to tackle the epidemic we face. Instead we need to look for solutions that work, and the best place to look isn’t too far away.

What stood out most to me in the drug death per capita statistics was not just that Scotland saw the highest rates in Europe, but that Portugal saw the second lowest. This is the same Portugal that in 2001 decriminalised all drugs in its efforts to deal with their own drugs death crisis. Since 2001 in Portugal, deaths from overdoses have dropped by 80 per cent, while the percentage of drug users diagnosed with HIV fell to seven per cent – from 52 per cent between 2000-2015.

Decriminalisation, in Portugal’s case, helped begin the road to recovery. Only once we start treating drug users as victims rather than criminals, and drug consumption as a public health matter and not a criminal one, can we be serious about reducing death rates.

What follows from decriminalisation are public health policies geared towards safe drug consumption. Establishing safe consumption rooms and needle exchanges helps reduce the risk of drug-related deaths. Treating drug users like human beings with a problem encourages greater numbers of people voluntarily entering treatment – again, as seen in Portugal.

The Conservative Party need to get behind these initiatives. They aren’t even too alien to the UK; countless numbers of Police and Crime Commissioners have been arguing for these measures for a while. If the Conservatives, and our next Prime Minister, threw their weight behind these initiatives, then we could be seen as a credible voice in the mission to end this epidemic.

However, decriminalisation is just one piece of the puzzle of effectively grappling with the UK’s high drug death rates, not to mention reducing drug use and ending organised drug crime. Admittedly, decriminalisation in Portugal hasn’t seen a clear impact on drug use, it still ebbs and flows. But, if paired with legalisation of marijuana, there is case to be made that drug use could fall.

Marijuana has been treated as a ‘gateway drug’ by many for a long time. But addictiveness of marijuana is a low ten per cent in terms of users developing addictions, compared to 15 per cent and 32 per cent for alcohol and tobacco respectively.  Marijuana is only a ‘gateway’ in the fact it leads you to suppliers on the black market, who then get you hooked on harder drugs.

If the Government were to legalise and regulate the sale of marijuana, then you remove the need for a black-market supplier. You put a choke hold on the black market and organised criminals. There is no way they can compete with the regulatory powers of the state and the initiative of legitimate businesses. It’s akin to the end of prohibition in the US, and the subsequent decline of the American mafia.

The only thing I see stopping the Conservative Party and its base in changing its approach to drug issues is its fear that doing so will lead to a drug culture in this country. The issue there is, there already is a drug culture. Around ten per cent of British adults take some form of drug each year, and this figure doubles in the age group aged 16-24. More importantly, around 50 per cent of the British public support weed legalisation, with just 24 per cent opposing.

Our Party needs to catch up with the rest of the country on drug matters. We already have a political class that have partaken in this drug culture, its time they now start addressing it.

I feel it’s time to put to rest the idea that legalisation would turn the UK into a population of layabouts. One just has to look to countries like the Netherlands, and certain states in America, to see this is not the case. We need to fight the disinformation and false narratives around marijuana if we are going to be serious about tackling wider drug issues in this country.

My pitch to Johnson and Priti Patel, our new Home Secretary, is this: if my 76-year-old Mormon grandfather can get behind marijuana, then so can the rest of the party and country.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Festus Akinbusoye: The Home Office’s latest anti-knife crime campaign is not racist

Festus Akinbusoye is Chairman of Milton Keynes Federation and was 2015 Parliamentary candidate for West Ham. He runs his own business.

The Home Office announcement of placing information on chicken-boxes at chicken shops across the country, aimed mainly at young people to deter them away from knife crime looked quite cutting-edge.

That is, until commentators started carving it to pieces, saying it is racist.  Their reasoning seemed to be that is somehow stereotyping black people as users of these shops.

Let me be clear. I am fully in support of us doing whatever needs to be done to help people drop the knives they feel a need to carry to keep them safe. I am all for consistent and practical measures aimed at engaging young people – where they are, to inspire them to better things as an alternative to being in gangs. So, as a public health infomercial, I support this Home Office initiative.

I know of families and friends who have been affected by gun and knife crime. Two have been fatal. One was just 16 years old, and the other in his early 20s. I too have witnessed, as a young man growing up in East London, a man covered in blood being chased by another carrying what looked like a machete. I couldn’t say what happened to this man, but the thought still haunts me some 20 years later.

There certainly isn’t a single solution to end violent crime on our streets. However, it is frankly just as ridiculous to turn violent crime into a race thing as it is to racialise solutions. Identifying a correlation between a specific crime and ethnicity will not cause any intelligent person to draw a causal link.

For example, and based on my experience of working with young offenders in and out of prisons, there is nothing yet that I have seen which causes me to believe that young black boys are any more violent or aggressive than their white or Asian counterparts. Nevertheless, data does show that a disproportionate number of young black boys are found with knives, and convicted of knife crimes, than their peers from other ethnic groups. The same couldn’t be said for other forms of crime.

I therefore do not buy the racism argument being levelled at the Home Office on this occasion, because the chicken shops being targeted are not just in predominantly black areas, but all parts of the country. If we are to treat gun and knife crime as a public health issue, engaging young people at the place where they are most likely to be found should be welcome. The use of iInstagram, for example, as a way of engaging young people on the subject of knife crime is a really good idea.

This is where I think the Home Office might wish to revisit this otherwise positive ‘chicken box’ strategy. Here is just one reason why. I live in rural Bedfordshire, where we do not have the typical chicken shops like the ones in our urban centres. Nonetheless, we do have growing concerns about ‘county line’ drug gangs moving their nefarious trade into rural areas. In fact, there is some evidence to show that knife crime is increasing at a faster rate in rural areas than in larger urban parts of the UK.

As alluded to earlier, this initiative may run the risk of assuming that knife crime and the gang culture that surround it are city centred – so resources are focused on those areas only. This will be mistake.

Additionally, while it is essential that this form of passive engagement continues – in chicken shops, social media, online and placed adverts, and so on – it is equally crucial that we invest more in support services within communities and for parents who might be struggling to keep their children out of gangs.

Far from taking away a parent’s rightful responsibility for caring for their child, it is about letting that parent know there is help available once it has been put in place. A quick search online will tell you there is not much support out there at all for parents who are worried about their child falling victim to grooming by gang leaders.

There are multiple reasons why people carry knives or join gangs, and there will have to be a multi-pronged approach to tackling these, including tougher prison sentences aimed at rehabilitation and reform. It is however perfectly sensible to also include in this deal useful information on chicken boxes, billboards and posters, alongside investment in community and home based support.

This is not about race, it is about keeping our communities safe.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Paul Mercer: We are winning the battle of ideas in Charnwood

Cllr Paul Mercer is a councillor on Charnwood Borough Council and is the Lead Member for Housing on the Cabinet.

After 12 years of being in control of Charnwood Borough Council, the ruling Conservative group was faced with the challenge of devising innovative policy ideas in the run-up to the local elections on 2 May. Charnwood is a large borough and over the past decade the inefficiencies and unnecessary bureaucracy created in the previous 12 years, five of which were under the control of the Labour Party and the rest under no-overall control, have been largely eradicated.

On the basis that good government often depends on good opposition, the Conservatives had the added burden of not having any effective opposition from the nine-strong Labour group. For instance, Labour’s manifesto suggested it was going to commit £5 million each year on improving our council houses and flats. What it failed to understand was that Charnwood was already spending over £16 million a year from within our Housing Revenue Account budget. Labour’s commitment would therefore represent a significant cut.

Labour also announced that it was going to address the problem of rising crime by “pledging to fund” ten ‘Police Community Safety Officers’ (the correct term is ‘support’ officers) who would be “based in Charnwood”. The average annual cost of a PCSO is about £39,000 compared to £44,000 for a PC. Not only did Labour fail to explain where they were going to find this extra money but had evidently not realised that under the 2002 Police Reform Act they would be controlled by the police and not the council.

With Labour failing to put up much effective opposition in Charnwood over the past four years, most of the debates over policy have been with the administration. When, for instance, we suggested that the empty homes premium – a mechanism by which higher council tax could be charged for properties which had been empty for more than two years – it was resisted on the basis that it would not have any impact, would be unpopular and difficult to implement. The policy is now in place and it is acknowledged that, not only is it an important tool in assisting bringing empty properties back into use, but it has also resulted in a significant increase in our new homes bonus. Likewise, there was resistance to the suggestion that we should charge council tax in the first month of a property being vacated, but this was pushed through by councillors. This has generated extra revenue and hardly anyone noticed the difference.

The Charnwood Conservative Manifesto for the 2019 elections therefore offered us the possibility of not only putting forward new policies to counter Labour, but also to set in stone a number of ideas which the officers had been unhappy with and which we would have difficulty in having implemented. Our Leader made it quite clear that if we were re-elected, the manifesto would become our programme and the policies would be implemented.

At the centre of Charnwood is Loughborough which is dominated by the University. Although the University has grown in size and reputation it has expected many of its students to live off-campus which is meant that large parts of the town and now dominated by student-occupied houses and flats. This has had a significant knock-on effect with higher levels of anti-social behaviour, crime, rubbish left on streets, a decline in the quality of houses and often a level of dissatisfaction from our indigenous residents. As a consequence, many of the councillors in the town, both Conservative and Labour, realised that the only response would be to implement licensing of these houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and possibly of all rented properties in the affected areas.

This policy is proving particularly popular amongst Conservative voters many of whom have relatively little interaction with the council other than paying their council tax and having their bins emptied.

The efficient way in which the Conservatives have managed Charnwood has made it difficult for Labour to attack which is why they have veered onto emphasising the NHS, Universal Credit, and even fracking in their attempt to gain support.

Local elections tend to be overshadowed by national politics and these have been no exception with Brexit dominating discussion on the doorstep when campaigning started. In our marginal wards in Charnwood, having these clear policies has helped candidates persuade electors that they should be voting on local issues. Although it has often been difficult, in most cases they seem to have succeeded.

In our ward, we have spoken to over 1,700 of the 4,000 electors and during the course of the campaign it was clear that feelings about Brexit were the biggest issue on the doorstep. In the early stages, about 20 per cent of Conservative voters expressed reservations. At the same time, we were coming across seasoned Labour voters who said that they were either not going to vote or might consider voting Conservative because of their concern over Jeremy Corbyn and Labour extremism.

The depth of concern over Brexit appeared to alter over the campaign. When the Prime Minister announced that our departure would be delayed and that European elections would now take place, electors soon reasoned that they had a new set of elections to vent their frustrations. After that, Brexit was hardly mentioned.

It is impossible to say what the impact will be tomorrow but the feeling of our candidates who have worked hard and spoken to a significant proportion of their electors is that the impact of Brexit can be averted. However, there also appears to be a concern – amongst Labour candidates as well – that national politics may still skew the result in a disproportionate number of seats.


Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Craig Hoy: Stop demanding the law-abiding simply learn to live with anti-social behaviour

Craig Hoy is a former Downing Street Lobby correspondent and a member of the Scottish Conservative Party.

After anything but a Merry Christmas, the last thing our struggling high streets need is to be blighted by anti-social behaviour. But all too often our villages, towns and cities are marred by low-level violence and intimidation, which reveal a stubborn stain on the character of modern Scotland.

Earlier this year, The Scottish Sun reported on ‘ASBO Avenue‘, where five individuals presided over a “reign of terror” on a small cul-de-sac. The number of dangerous dog notices issued across Scotland is up by 270 per cent in six years. Crime rose by 1.7 per cent in Scotland last year, with offences involving a weapon up by 3.4 per cent and robberies surging by 8.4 per cent.

In my home town of Haddington in East Lothian – where I now spend much of my time, following a decade running a business in the sharply different environs of Asia – authorities recently agreed a so-called ‘Problem Solving Partnership’ to tackle a spate of extreme anti-social behaviour. The actions of a small number of visible individuals alarmed local residents and angered weary local businesses. A series of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) followed, including one which bans a 38-year-old woman using “aggressive, abusive or intimidating language or behaviour” preventing her entering the street “in a group of more than two people”.

At the heart of this problem lies the vexing balancing act between personal rights and responsibilities. If you speak in private to those responsible for enforcing ASBOs, or pursuing tenant evictions, they admit that the pendulum has swung much too far in the wrong direction.

Those seeking to prosecute this behaviour say they are doing so with one hand tied behind their back. Cash-strapped local authorities and over-stretched police often lack the capacity to respond effectively – or react at all. The legal processes can be drawn-out and complex – and biased in favour of the offender.

While it’s un-PC to advocate hard-line early intervention, there’s mounting evidence that we’re still too reluctant to respond decisively to damaging and dangerous behaviour. Or, in the East Lothian case, the response is wrong: to house anti-social residents in the same locality, to make it easier for relevant agencies to monitor their behaviour – or, worse still, alongside good neighbours in the vain hope that it will make them change their ways.

The structural language of the mechanisms deployed hints at this sense of misguided logic. Take ‘Acceptable Behaviour Contracts’. These voluntary written agreements between councils, landlords and tenants have no legal status.

Think about it for a moment. It has come to something when adults have to explicitly agree in writing “not to threaten or abuse residents or passers-by” or, worse still, “not to throw missiles” at them. People ought to know that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable and act accordingly, without having to sign a piece of paper.

Tony Blair’s much-vaunted “respect agenda” has been lost by governments of all political persuasions over recent decades and more.

What strikes me most, and should worry us all, is that many now believe this is a problem we simply have to learn to live with. They view it as a battle too complex – or too costly – to tackle through the penal system or via social or welfare policy. It is, say some on the Left, an undesirable but inevitable outcome of unacceptable levels of poverty and deprivation. I doubt that this is completely true but no political party is without blame.
 Two years ago, one of the starkest problems which struck me on my return to Scotland after a decade in Asia was the level of “everyday” anti-social behaviour. That could be kids on bikes “buzzing” an elderly pedestrian, or hooded youths using unleashed dogs to passively threaten those who walk by.

I accept comparing Scotland to countries such as Singapore is probably a fruitless exercise. Crude comparisons fail to take into account different cultural norms, legal and penal systems, the role of the family and the impact of different levels of wealth and the welfare system on an individual’s behaviour.

But it’s worth trying to assess precisely why significant levels of anti-social behaviour have been “priced in” to the everyday currency of life in Scotland today when other countries still adopt zero tolerance. If the respect agenda works elsewhere, then we shouldn’t give up on it here.

Scotland is prepared to think out of the box. Moves towards tackling knife crime through a “public health” approach have been successful in Glasgow. But it is worth stressing that finding “reachable and teachable moments” to educate offenders were deployed alongside deterrent based measures, including, for a period, increased stop and search and tougher sentences.

Finding a lasting solution to anti-social behaviour and violence might mean having difficult conversations about relying less on community sentencing, increasing fines and using custodial sentences more.

Community Justice Scotland (CJS) says the criminal justice system has to be “swift and visible”, but “balanced and fair” – allowing offenders to “build better lives” for themselves and their families. But we must be very careful we don’t create a dangerous imbalance in the same way we have over rights and responsibilities.

The Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill, currently before the Holyrood Parliament, suggests further use of electronic tagging. CJS is calling for more ambitious measures still. Such calls should be resisted until it’s proven they reduce crime and re-offending across the cycle.

With attention focused on Brexit and the threat of Indyref2, it would be all too easy to push complex policy issues aside. But it would be completely wrong to admit defeat by failing to wrestle with these intractable issues.

Anti-social behaviour hits the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. Taking action must remain a top-level policy priority for the Tory Party in Scotland, just as it should be for our political opponents.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com