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19/10/2007 00:00:00

UK: Alarming 14 per cent rise in drug crime will pile on pressure

An alarming 14 per cent rise in drug-related crime last night placed
Gordon Brown under intense pressure to scrap Labour's 'softly softly'

The main reason for the increase was a surge in possession of cannabis.

Campaigners said it was clear more and more youngsters were getting into
trouble by using the drug, which was downgraded from Class B to C by
Labour three years ago.

Government figures recorded 55,000 drug offences from April to June this
year - up from 48,300 a year ago.

The figures marred a more encouraging set of quarterly crime statistics
for the Home Office, which showed the number of violent offences
beginning to fall after a series of rises.

And they could now prove the deciding factor in the cannabis debate -
with Mr Brown already on the verge of forcing through a reclassification.

Whitehall sources say the Prime Minister wants to 'send out a message'
to teenagers that smoking the drug is wrong and dangerous.

Mary Brett, UK spokesman for Europe Against Drugs, said: "The figures
speak for themselves.

"Gordon Brown should just get on with it."

Shadow home secretary David Davis said cannabis must be reclassified.

He added: 'Drug abuse is a result of a shambolic and failed policy which
needs putting right. Labour, however, are part of the problem, not the

Norman Brennan, director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: "Drug
crime has a devastating effect on people's lives."

Since Labour downgraded the drug to Class C in 2004, users no longer
automatically face arrest.

Instead, officers can simply give out a formal warning - of which 66,000
were issued last year.

If the drug is reclassified Class B, the formal warning system would be
scrapped and smokers would face arrest.

The reclassification, currently being considered by the Advisory Council
on the Misuse of Drugs, is supported by a coalition of medical experts,
mental health charities, police and magistrates.

It follows overwhelming medical evidence linking the drug to psychosis
and a string of killings.

The Government suggested the increase in drug crime - particularly
cannabis - was due to police being given extra powers to tackle the problem.

But Mr Davis said: "The public know these 'powers' the Government are
pushing are merely mechanisms designed to ignore drug offences by any means.

"They certainly do not involve either prosecuting the pusher, or
intervening to give a user a real chance of getting off drugs."

Overall recorded crime levels fell 7 per cent to just under 1,300,000
offences. Recorded levels of violent crime were down 8 per cent overall,
including a 14 per cent drop in most serious violence.

But the separate British Crime Survey, which is favoured by ministers,
showed a 1 per cent rise in violent crime, including a 2 per cent rise
in offences causing injury.

The BCS, which is based on 40,000 interviews, found that the risk of
being a victim of crime remained stable at 24 per cent.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "No doubt
ministers will find something in these statistics to crow about.

"However, the truth is that people feel far less safe in their own
communities than they should, and certain key offences such as
drug-related crime are still going up. This is the depressing legacy of
the Government's tough-talking populism on crime."

Author: Evening Standard via UKCIA

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