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The World at One's Angus Crawford reports
"Wintercomfort's day centre had a strict anti-drugs policy but refused to open its files to police"
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Ruth Wyner of the 'Cambridge Two'
"You have to take drug addicts in if you want to do your job"
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Government Homelessness Czar, Ruth Wyner
"The crucial difference here is between using and dealing"
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Friday, 22 December, 2000, 15:27 GMT
'Cambridge Two' vow to fight on
Ruth Wyner and John Brock
Wyner and Brock: Law makes it difficult to help clients with drug problems
Two managers of a hostel for the homeless have lost their appeal against conviction for allowing drugs to be peddled on the premises.

The case of the Cambridge Two, Ruth Wyner and John Brock, has aroused widespread interest - and a high level of protest: senior academics and show-business personalities are among those who have campaigned on their behalf.

There is a real problem now for homeless services seeking to address clients with drug problems

Ruth Wyner
The case involved the Wintercomfort drop-in centre in Cambridge where Wyner was director and Brock a manager. It had a strict anti-drugs policy but refused to open its files to police.

After complaints from local residents, detectives mounted a secret surveillance operation. Drug dealing was discovered and the two were arrested.

As the law stands, managers of such centres - or indeed any other building open to the public - can be held responsible for any drug-dealing that takes place, if it can be shown that they knew what was happening.

There was still considerable surprise when a judge at Cambridge Crown Court sentenced Ruth Wyner and John Brock to five and four years respectively, after they were convicted in December 1999.

Wyner and Brock were released on bail in July following a vigorous campaign
Drugs and homelessness workers feared it might open the floodgates to prosecutions and could lead to a crisis in care.

Some organisations said the only way to protect themselves would be to turn away anyone suspected of using drugs - affecting up to 50% of those living rough, according to recent figures.

But the Court of Appeal criticised the length of the sentence and ordered that Brock and Wyner should be released on bail - having served 207 days behind bars.

They then hoped to clear their names - but that hope was dashed on Thursday.

'Sword of Damocles'

Campaigners for a change in the law will be bitterly disappointed, as was Ruth Wyner when she spoke to the World at One outside the court.

She said a lot of charity workers felt "a sword of Damocles" hanging over their work, since the judge said people risk 18 months in prison.

People who knowingly allow dealers on their premises are colluding with those who prey on rough sleepers

Homelessness Czar, Ruth Wyner
"It seems as though the law's goalposts have been changed around us. There were was no suggestion previously that one has to give names to the police. This is now case law," she said.

"There is a real problem now for homeless services seeking to address clients with drug problems.

"You have to take in drug addicts in if you're going to do your job. We all know that when you get a few together exchanges take place - and those exchanges are dealing," she added.

The key to the convictions was Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs act 1971 which criminalises those who allow drug dealing on their premises.

According to Kevin Flemen from the drugs charity Release, the law was originally aimed at brothel keepers, and has now trapped charity workers.

"If one person shares a cannabis spliff with another person - that person is guilty of supply," he said.

Recruitment of staff into the voluntary sector and the confidentiality of clients are the main casualties of Section 8, according to professionals.


Louise Casey, the Government's Homelessness Czar, would not be drawn on her opinion about calls to change the law.

She told the World at One that every effort should be made to ensure that drug dealers did not get access to facilities set up to help the homeless.

"The crucial difference here is between using and dealing, and making sure you have taken all reasonable steps to ensure dealing has been dealt with," she said.

"People who knowingly allow dealers on their premises are colluding with those who prey on rough sleepers and I think that should be stopped," she added.

There have been attempts to change legislation - one by the local Labour MP, Anne Campbell - who says that at the very least charity workers needed clearer guidance on dealing with homeless drug users.

The human rights organisation Liberty are supporting the Cambridge Two's case and are planning to take the case to the European courts.

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