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Paul Betts
"We have all the laws in place - we don't need to change anything"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 28 March, 2000, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Leah parents reject drugs report
Leah Betts on ventilator
Leah Betts: Killed by ecstasy taken on her birthday
The parents of Leah Betts, who died after taking an ecstasy tablet on her 18th birthday, have strongly opposed a softening of sentences on drug users.

Paul and Jan Betts spoke out against the findings of a two-year study carried out by the Police Foundation, a body partly funded by the Home Office with a panel including drugs experts, police officers and senior lawyers.

If you visit Amsterdam, you will see that they have lost it completely. On every bridge, Colombian drug dealers will sell you any drug that you wish to have

Paul Betts
The report argues that current laws have had limited success in deterring people from taking drugs.

It is advocates making cannabis possession a civil offence and demoting ecstasy from a class A to a class B substance.

But the Betts, who have campaigned for more drugs education since their daughter's death in 1995, warned that such a move would cause the number of addicts and deaths to rise.

Last year, the couple moved from Essex to Speyside, saying that Scotland provided a better environment for teaching youngsters about the perils of drugs.

Educating the courts

"We have all the laws in place," said Mr Betts. "We don't have to change anything.

"But perhaps we have to start educating the justiciary so they realise how dangerous drugs are."

He rejected the suggestion that the more liberal availability of certain substances, such as in Amsterdam, would reduce the number of people becoming addicted to "harder" drugs.

Jan and Paul Betts
Jan and Paul Betts: Moved to Scotland
"If you visit Amsterdam, you will see that they have lost it completely. On every bridge, Colombian drug dealers will sell you any drug that you wish to have.

"If you want our country to end up like that, let's start following the Police Foundation's report and start depenalising. Let's start reclassifying all drugs.

"We can then just throw our hands up in despair and say 'well, I don't know what we did wrong, do you?'"

'Last nail in coffin'

His wife Jan said: "My thoughts are that I hope to God that the government does not implement these recommendations. If they do it will be the last nail in the coffin.

"We will lose it with the drug dealers and the children. God alone knows what would happen.

"I'm not saying the issues should be stuck under the carpet and not debated - I just hope that what will come out will be that the dangers of these drugs will be highlighted."

Ecstasy tablet
A tablet similar to the one taken by Leah
Lady Ruth Runciman, the former head of the government's drug advisory council, chaired the report committee.

"All the offences will remain criminal offences and will bring with them criminal records if somebody consistently falls foul of the law," she told BBC Breakfast News.

She also denied a Home office claim that the likely impact of any relaxation would be to increase drug consumption.

"We have looked very carefully at the international evidence and there is nothing to suggest that this is inevitable or even likely.

Commission resisted

"What we are concerned to do is to ensure that the penalties are appropriate to the harm caused and do not inflict more harm themselves."

Asked what the positive benefits of downgrading penalties would be, she replied: "To direct attention to the really main tools to deal with use (of drugs) and those are education and treatment; to take an approach to drug use which is oriented towards health and not criminal penalties."

The Police Foundation is a charity, not a formal organisation representing the police, but its membership includes senior police officers.

The government has adamantly resisted calls for a Royal Commission - the highest official study possible - to look into the issue.

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See also:

28 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Drugs policy change rejected
23 Feb 00 | Scotland
Drug abuse increasing
04 Dec 98 | Medical notes
Cannabis: The debate
08 Jan 00 | Scotland
Funeral of 'drugs death' teenager
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