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Saturday, January 3, 1998 Published at 11:02 GMT


Straw still against legalising cannabis
image: [ You do know Jack: newspapers can now name the Home Secretary ]
You do know Jack: newspapers can now name the Home Secretary

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has said he will continue to oppose the decriminalisation of cannabis despite allegations of dealing in the drug levelled against his son.

After a high court judge lifted an injunction prohibiting the media from naming Mr Straw, police groups and opposition politicians rushed to praise his handling of the embarrassing, protracted episode.

But the Home Secretary has rejected renewed calls, from inside and outside his party, for a re-think on the Government's handling of illegal drugs.

[ image: How The Mirror broke the story]
How The Mirror broke the story
Mr Straw told BBC radio on Saturday that the Government currently allows 19 research projects in medical and therapeutic uses of cannabis.

Yet the United Nations classifies cannabis as a narcotic and the drug harms users, he said.

"There has been no evidence whatever to undermine the scientific evidence that this is potentially a dangerous drug and of course should not be legalised."

He said the fact laws were broken did not mean they should be repealed and said heavy users of cannabis suffered serious long-term effects.

The Labour MP Paul Flynn said the Government could salvage something from the affair by reviewing Britain's drug laws.

"They are not working," Mr Flynn said. "We are following the American example of pretending to be tough on drugs, which has led in the US to record drug crimes and record and increasing drug use."

[ image: Brian Mawhinney: glad saga has ended]
Brian Mawhinney: glad saga has ended
Yet while the dispute on drugs rages on, other politicians praised Mr Straw's handling of a nine-day saga, which began with an expose in The Mirror newspaper and went on to descend into farce.

The Mirror claimed Mr Straw's 17-year-old son William sold £10 worth of cannabis to one of its reporters but identified Mr Straw only as a senior cabinet minister.

Before Friday's high court ruling reversed an earlier injunction preventing The Sun from identifying Mr Straw, three Scottish and an Irish newspaper had named him as the minister.

The Mirror's editor, Piers Morgan, is "pleased the mess has been resolved" (1' 50")
Mr Straw's identify had also been revealed in continental newspapers and in newsgroups on the Internet.

The Shadow Home Secretary, Sir Brian Mawhinney, said: "Everybody will be pleased that the hide-and-seek nonsense of the last few days is over.

[ image: Mirror reporter Dawn Alford was also questioned by police]
Mirror reporter Dawn Alford was also questioned by police
"My sympathy lies with the Straw family in these difficult circumstances."

Paul Cavadino, principle officer of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO), said: "The Home Secretary deserves great credit for the restrained and proper way in which he has acted in a difficult situation."

At a news conference after the court ruling, Mr Straw said he had objected to the ban on revealing his identity in the case.

"As a politician and as a member of a democratically-elected Government, it is one of my fundamental duties to answer your questions," he said.

"I have therefore been as disturbed as you at my inability to speak openly on this matter before."

He added: "It has been a period of considerable difficulty, just as it would have been for any other family. I have teenage children and I am aware of the pressures they are under and the parents of teenage children are under.

"I have always sought - and so have my colleagues - to conduct our family lives the same way as other people. These are experiences that other families have had and so it does not in any way affect my ability to talk on these matters."

The worst kept secret in years

The lifting of the injunction appeared to be made more on practical than legal grounds.

Mr Justice Toulson asked the high court "whether it was sensible or appropriate for the court to maintain opposition in which matters can be freely published in Greenock but not in Carlisle."

Jack Straw speaks of his "relief" at being able to break the silence (2' 47")
After the hearing, a lawyer for the Home Secretary appealed to the media not to "pester William at this very difficult time."

On Christmas Eve, the day after the Mirror first published allegations of a cabinet minister's son selling drugs, William reportedly learned he had secured a place at Oxford University.

Mr Straw's lawyer said publicity about the case could damage his prospects at university.

But the judge said it would be "remarkable" if any college concerned was not already aware of his identity.

Mr Justice Toulson added that circumstances had changed markedly since Mr Justice Moses refused to allow The Sun to identify Mr Straw.

"Anyone who wished to find out his name could do so with comparatively little difficulty," he said.

"The question is whether the stage has now been reached where it would be artificial to pretend that anonymity can be preserved. If that stage has been reached, to maintain the injunction would do nothing to protect the young person or respect for the law."

Straw faces dual embarrassment

Mr Straw has been an outspoken opponent of decriminalising or legalising cannabis since his days as a student politician.

But the embarrassment at his son's arrest is compounded by his efforts to make parents accountable for their children's behaviour since becoming Home Secretary.

"None of us should evade our responsibilities for our children," he has said.

"You have got to get parents to accept their responsibilities."

Since the Labour victory in May, Mr Straw has also opposed decriminalising cannabis on television and described drugs as "the greatest evil facing society today" in a newspaper interview.

Mr Straw, who lives in Lambeth in south London, has a daughter and a son by his second wife, Alice Perkins, a deputy director of public spending at the Treasury.

His first marriage to teacher Anthea Weston ended after 10 years in 1968.

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Jack Straw biography

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