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'War on drugs is farcical' says former detective

Former undercover officer who spent years trying to rid the streets of drugs is now calling for an end to prohibition

Neil Woods joined the police force because he “wanted to catch criminals”, and as an undercover detective trying to infiltrate networks of drug dealers, he felt his efforts appropriately deployed.

In the guise of a heroin user, the ex-Derbyshire officer (pictured) would enjoy the adrenaline rush he experienced while attempting to befriend addicts in order to gain intelligence on the supply chain.

But with his ear to the ground, the then detective sergeant became critical of how far his work was contributing to ridding the streets of the Midlands of drugs.

"Bit by bit I realised the war on drugs was farcical," Mr Woods told PoliceOracle.com.

“It was a ridiculous concept but I still kept doing the work because you take this fatalistic view that this is the system that we are stuck with: the nasty gangsters are still out there and we have got to try and catch them."

He soon understood that the "bad guys" were not the low level users that were usually on the receiving end of the law, but the organised criminals higher up the pecking order who were escaping justice.

"All of us cops go into the job wanting to help people and catch bad guys, and as time went on I realised some of the worst bad guys were the gangsters controlling the drug supply," he said.

The result of a job in Mansfield which saw a group of users given "ridiculous" prison sentences only strengthened his convictions.

"They weren't gangsters, they were just helping a fellow addict out," he said.

Persecution of users

He came to the belief that chasing the street users meant they were being "squeezed from both sides", as the gangsters resorted to "nastier and nastier" means of controlling them.

"My actions were literally making a horrible situation worse, and it was continuing each year it went on," he said.

Eventually quitting the force after developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), he is now the Vice Chairman of an organisation called LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), an organisation that campaigns for the legalisation and regulation of drugs.

The group's website claims two ex-chief constables, Francis Wilkinson (Gwent) and Paul Whitehouse (Sussex) and former Strathclyde Police inspector, Jim Duffy, as its speakers.

Effect on resources

And as forces continue to struggle with budget cuts, the financial impact of drug investigations and prosecutions should be examined, he added.

"I suspect that there will be quite a few chief constables out there who would love it if all the money from drug investigations was channelled elsewhere,” he said.

"It would mean a lot of rape and burglary enquiries would be paid for."

As yet, there are is only one serving chief constable, Mike Barton of Durham Constabulary, and his police and crime commissioner, Ron Hogg, who have been outspoken on their opposition to the prohibition of drugs.

But the former officer recognises how hard it can be for senior officers to think critically about current legislation.

"You want to trust the laws of our country," Mr Woods said. "Police officers tend to be very cynical about drug reform, they believe in what they do and I used to believe it too.”

For more information on LEAP, click here.

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