Pubdate: Sun, 20 June 1999
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Nicholas Rufford (Home Affairs Editor ), and Sumit Das Gupta


POLICE are rebelling against a controversial government plan to divert
millions of pounds from their crimefighting budgets to treat addicts and buy
them drugs.

A confidential Home Office circular from the international and organised
crime directorate asks police forces to finance the treatment of drug users
who are arrested on suspicion of criminal offences.

As many as 30,000 addicts a year could be sent from police cells to clinics
charging between A3500 and A31,000 a week per person. Some will be
prescribed heroin or methadone. The government says that the police should
pay for the treatment because they will benefit from a fall in crime.

However, some of the most senior chief constables are refusing to co-operate
in a move that challenges the authority of Jack Straw, the home secretary.
The issue could snowball into a bigger revolt over cuts in police funding
that have already led to about 700 fewer beat officers since Labour came to

David Phillips, the chief constable of Kent and chairman of the crime
committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said he would
refuse to pay. "I, as a chief constable, will not do it. We will make every
effort to help arrange treatment, but it is quite wrong to expect us to

John Newing, chief constable of Derbyshire and president of Acpo, said
police forces could not afford it. "For every pound spent treating drug
addicts, a pound less will be spent on police officers on the beat."

Straw has so far managed to avoid a public clash with chief constables over
budget cuts and declining police numbers. However, the drugs issue could be
a catalyst for disobedience, police say.

A meeting this week of senior officers from the 43 forces in England and
Wales will decide how to respond to the Home Office plan and a strategy of
organised resistance is expected.

The Sunday Times has learnt that the Home Office wants everyone arrested who
has a drug problem to have the opportunity for treatment. That could amount
to one in five arrests, which would put a huge drain on police resources.

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow home secretary, said the Home Office plan was
deeply flawed. "There is nothing wrong with treating drug addicts, but it
should not be a charge on the police."

Additional reporting: Sumit Das Gupta

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