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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 October, 2004, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Sandra Howard backs charity
By Ben Davies
BBC News Online political staff in Bournemouth

Sandra Howard with husband Michael
Sandra Howard has made her debut speech at the Tory conference to highlight her support for a charity that works with drug and alcohol addicts.

The Tory leader's wife appeared at a packed fringe meeting alongside two recovering drug addicts and revealed she had been involved with Addaction ever since her husband was home secretary.

The ex-model began bashfully by saying there was only one public speaker in her family - her husband.

Michael Howard has pledged a tenfold increase in residential rehabilitation for addicts if he wins power.

It was he who first drew his wife's attention to the charity which she branded "marvellous".

Dead partner

Addaction's chief executive Peter Martin said Mrs Howard had helped to raise thousands and was a "constant source of motivation and encouragement".

But the real stars of the meeting were two drug addicts, Tony and Trish, who gave emotionally charged accounts of their battles with drugs.

Trish, 42, told how her problems began when her parents divorced sparking a 21-year drug hell that eventually saw her partner dead and nearly cost her own life.

The misery of her drug-fuelled existence was such that a year in prison was one of the happiest in her life.

Entrepreneur

She broke down as she told how Addaction, for whom she now works, helped her turn her life around.

And in scenes unprecedented at a Tory conference a shout went up 'give her a hug'.

Many in the audience were visibly moved as Trish sat down and 23-year-old Tony told how he fought his way back from addiction to found his own building business in London.

To laughter and applause he added somewhat sheepishly: "I am now a taxpayer."

Knife threat

Like Trish, Tony had been in prison.

His voice cracked as he said it was for street robbery.

Perhaps most shocking of all he told us that his lowest point had been to hold a knife to his mother's throat and demand cash.

He said he was now rebuilding his relationships and was clean from drugs thanks in no small part to the support he had received from Addaction.




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