Staff working with drug misusers run the risk of a criminal
record after an amendment to the new criminal justice and police
bill, treatment agencies have claimed.
The bill extends section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to
cover all controlled drugs. Prior to the amendment, organisations
were obliged to stop the production and supply of all controlled
drugs and the smoking of cannabis taking place on premises they
manage. The amendment obliges the occupier or manager to stop the
administration or use of all controlled drugs, not just
It follows the case of Ruth Wyner and John Brock, nicknamed the
‘Cambridge Two’, who were jailed in 1999 after being found guilty
under section 8 of the act of knowingly allowing drug dealers to
supply heroin at Wintercomfort, a drop-in centre for homeless
people in Cambridge.
They were freed on bail in July 2000, and although they lost
their appeal in January, they did not have to return to prison.
Since their arrest, they and others have campaigned for the act to
be amended to say “wilfully” committing rather than “knowingly”,
arguing that the section was intended to catch club and pub owners
who might profit from a lax drugs policy, rather than social care
Release, a charity specialising in drug-related legal problems,
says that the clause means that where managers of premises know or
could reasonably believe that illicitly held controlled drugs were
being used on the premises, they will commit an offence if they do
not take reasonable steps to stop them.
Deputy director Ian Robinson said the amendment “will cause
severe difficulties for agencies with drug users and undermine
efforts to address the problems of drug use and homelessness”.
Agencies providing supported housing to known, active drug users
will need to carefully consider the legality of continued service
provision, he warned.
Ted Unsworth, chief executive of Turning Point, the charity
providing help and support for people with drink, drug and mental
health problems, as well as learning difficulties, said: “This
amendment may lead to people being excluded unnecessarily from
services, especially homelessness ones.”
Wyner labelled the amendment nonsense, and said: “The reality is
that the government statistics show that 86 per cent of street
homeless people use illegal drugs, in the main heroin. This reality
hasn’t been recognised. I don’t think it’s going to help the drug
user because the problem will be driven further underground.”
Wyner, who now works on a freelance basis for the prison sector,
added: “It’s disgraceful that they haven’t consulted beforehand
with the agencies working with drug users and the treatment
However, the home office said that the amendment was designed to
tackle crack houses which are a “particular policing challenge”. A
spokesperson said that the amendment will not come into force until
police, other government departments and the treatment and
voluntary sector have been consulted on guidelines to ensure that
those working in those sectors are not prosecuted.