23 October 2006

Heroin Chic: Kate Moss, Jane Henderson and Topshop

It's not often that KFx dips it's toe into the heady world of fashion. But having had an insight into why former Topshop's fashion director recently quit, we felt obliged to share it.

As fashion followers will know, model Kate Moss was appointed as a fashion designer by the head of Topshop. This we learn was not the final straw for Ms Henderson.

What was, we understand, was that her initial offerings appeared to be some fairly 'distressed' clothes, which were somewhat ragged and (dare we say it) dirty.

We understand that being offered these as a design offering were a bridge too far, and this resulted in Ms Henderson's departure.

The only thing that remains unanswered is...were these products in fact Pete Doherty's unwashed clothes? We wait to learn more, avidly.

In the meantime, thoroughly ashamed of ourselves for running such superficial twaddle, we now resume normal service!

17 October 2006

The Macho Rev Hargreaves and his Cannabis Campaign

After the tragic stabbing of Stevens Nyembo-Ya-Muteba in Hackney in October, you could not avoid seeing or hearing George Hargreaves in the media afterwards.

It was widely alleged in the media that the boys who stabbed Mr. Muteba had been smoking cannabis before the attack. Hargreaves used this as the catalyst to launch a broadside against cannabis and to announce that thanks to an 'anonymous donor' he was going to court for a judicial review of the ACPO policy in relation to cannabis policing.

Hargreaves says that an anonymous donor has given him the required money to launch his High Court challenge. But in practice he could probably fund ths himself being a wealhy man. He earns, it is estimated, some £10k per month - from record royalties.

For the anti-Gay Hargreaves also wrote the Gay club anthem "So Macho," sung by Sinitta.

We discuss the review of policing cannabis in a separate article (see above.) Here, we want to set the record straight on Hargreaves and his campaign.

In the local press and on the Radio 4's Today programme, Hargreaves represented himself as a local pastor, dismayed at seeing 'his' community in Dalston torn apart by cannabis, and watching young people's mental health deteriorating.

In fact, the Reverend Hargreaves is a Christian Fundamentalist who established Operation Christian Vote and has parliamentary ambitions. He sees the purpose of Government "the purpose of government is the maintenance of freedom and justice solely in accordance with biblical principles."

He adds cannabis to his list of 'anti's' most notably anti-abortion and anti-gay. He believes that people should be arrested and charged for even small amounts of cannabis. Presumably he believes this would have a deterrent effect, or that a short spell in detention would correct wayward young people, rather than merely criminalising them at an early age.

In the sad case of Mr. Muteba, he didn't mention the lack of recreational facilities in Dalston for young people, the growth of gang culture, the lack of community policing on the Holly Estate. All he focussed on was cannabis.

And, like the Daily Mail and the other campaigners, Hargreaves likes to string together unproven and often incorrect statements to support his condemnation of cannabis.

He claims that use of cannabis has escalated; research shows that use of cannabis amongst 11-15 year olds, and 16-25 year olds has actually declined since 2003 [BCS, DoH].

He claims that use of skunk has escalated since reclassification; the widespread use and availability of skunk had been increasing over the past decade, and is not a reflection of reclassification. Indeed, the evidence is that a licensed and regulated market would ensure a wider range of strengths, rather than our current reliance on strong homegrown skunk'

he repeats the argument that cannabis causes schizophrenia, an assertion not borne out by the evidence. While there is clearly a relationship between cannabis and mental health, this has not be shown to be a causative link. It's tragic that anyone would want to exploit the tragic death of a person, to promote their own moral and political agenda. Something that the Reverend Hargreaves has no compunction about doing.


The End of the Road for the Cannabis Policing 'experiment?

It seems likely that before the end of the year, the current cannabis policing policy will come to a grinding halt. Given a combination of factors, it seems almost inevitable that the current policy will be abandoned. This will not, unfortunately, be due to evidence that the policy has 'failed,' but rather due to a combination of media pressure, political ineptitude and circumstances.

The political climate:

The political demise of David Blunkett leaves the way clear for John Reid to change the way cannabis is policed. That Blunkett has now revealed the extent to which his performance was impaired by his social problems means that his decision making is now easy for others to question and overturn.

Likewise, Charles Clarke's decision to follow the ACMDs recomendations was a close run thing; it was made whilst the Home Secretary simultaneously promised a review of the whole classification system.

The Home Office's rejection of the review undertaken by the Science and Technology committee, which looked at the drugs classification system, suggests that the Home Office will not reclassify cannabis to B, but will also not change the overall classification system.

Media Pressure:

The media have frothed themselves in to a righteous indignation about cannabis and currently sense blood. The murder of Steven Nyembo-Ya-Muteba, the killing of Paul Butterworth in St Albans by Laurie Draper, the ongoing campaign against 'skunk farms' run by 'Vietnamese Gangs,' have all contributed to a febrile atmosphere and intense pressure on an underperforming Home Office. The Government needs a way out, and the media knows that they are kicking against a door which is ready to swing open.

Police Review:

ACPO is currently reviewing the policing of cannabis including the current guidance; this review (it is claimed) had been planned for a while and is not a response to current political or media pressure. But given current criticism pressure is going to be intense for a change to the current police guidance. Certainly, the outcome to date has been a lottery of enforcement and this has meant huge variation as to how cannabis has been policed.

Legal Review:

The Judicial Review, which has been sought by Christian fundamentalist George Hargreaves, is set to challenge the current ACPO guidance. He is not seeking (we understand) to review the reclassification of cannabis, rather the ACPO policing guidance. It has to be said that such a review may well find against the ACPO guidance, suggesting that the decision not to enforce the law as a matter of policy is ultra vires but this will remain to be seen. But it also increases the chances that ACPO and/or the Home Office may decide to change policy prior to a court result to avoid the embarassment of a court result going against ACPO.

In conclusion:

When cannabis was originally to be reclassified, it should have simply moved to class C, and as such the power of arrest would have been removed. Blunkett, in a furious backpedal under media and police pressure, had PACE amended to make sure that the power of arrest for cannabis was retained, and tried to fudge this decision by getting ACPO to draft guidance to ensure a presumption against arrest. This fudge, which was an inelegant and ill-considered approach, is now under review with ACPO, under sustained media pressure and the subject of judicial review. Blair, Reid, Clarke and others have already indicated that they would like to to see the reclassification reversed.

In light of this, it seems almost inevitable that the current policing arrangement will be ended. However, we do not think that cannabis will move back to Class B. To do so would be for the Home Office to reject outright the advice of the ACMD. This would be a huge step. But the need to re-reclassify would largely be irrelevant if the current policing policy were to be abandoned.


15 October 2006

Drug Thresholds Abandoned!

In a low-key announcement, buried at the end of a low key report launch, the Government has abandoned it's efforts to introduce "threshold quantities." These, you will remember, were to be introduced as part of the Drugs Act 2005. The aim was to introduce "prescribed amounts" of drugs, above which there would be a presumption of intent to supply, and a reverse evidentiary burden on the defendant to disprove the assertion.

The measure was widely reported in the media at the time, and trumpeted by the Home Office as a measure that would see many more people successfully prosecuted for supply.
Many in the drugs field, including KFx, were opposed to the measure. We disapproved of the legal change, and argued that, as well as the law being ill-considered, the defining of threshold amounts would prove impossible.

We were also concerned that, despite the figures that the Government published in the RIA that accompanied the bill, it became clear that the Home Office had no idea how many people would be affected by the change. When asked, for example, how many people were found to be in possession of specific amounts of cannabis, the Home Office acknowledged that they didn't store this information, and so couldn't say how many people would be charged with supply under the new rules.

Only 36 organisations responded to the consultation, mostly police forces. Fortunately, critical comments were received from many, including KFx, Transform, Release, Turning Point and others. It is was saddening to see that some very vocal groups, including Reform, Kaleidescope, Drugscope and Liberty did not contribute.

Having said that, the Home Office, having received serious structured criticism decided once again to abandon ill-considered legislation. As with the proposal to change Section 8 of the MDA, the Home Office has been found to make policy on the hoof, and be forced in to backing down when challenged in a serious and consistent way.

For the full Home Office response to the consultation click here