Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt for DRCNet
Sentencing of Charity Workers Sparks Debate, Protest in UK
Just days before Christmas, the director and manager of a homeless shelter in Cambridge, England were found guilty of what prosecutors called "allowing their premises to be used for 'procurement & trading' of illicit substances." Kings Lynn Crown Court Judge Jonathan Haworth sentenced Ruth Wyner and John Brock of the Wintercomfort homelessness project to five and four years in prison, respectively.
The two were arrested after a buy-and-bust operation by local police netted several individuals who were using the site to sell drugs. Wyner and Brock, who were not accused of dealing or using drugs themselves, were arrested because they had not turned over to police the names and addresses of suspected drug dealers -- persons whom they had previously banned from the site. Wyner and Brock maintain that informing on their clients would have violated their confidence and broken the fragile link the shelter created between addicts and drug treatment services.
Wyner and Brock's sentencing, the length of which exceeds that of the dealers who were arrested at Wintercomfort, has caused an uproar in England from official public health circles to drug user's unions, from Cambridge drawing rooms to the floor of Parliament.
It has also spurred the formation of an action committee under the slogan "Free the Cambridge Two." At a recent meeting, Professor David Brandon of East Anglia University exhorted his comrades to drastic measures. "If it comes to it, we should offer ourselves up for arrest," he said. "These sentences have made a mockery of the law, and by offering ourselves up, we would be dignifying it. Thousands of us are 'aware' of drug dealers in our agencies."
Critics of Wyner and Brock's sentences say the case is representative of an increasingly repressive and punitive British drug policy that has developed under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair. Along with a burgeoning urine testing industry and a growing criminal justice involvement within drug service provision, they perceive a disturbing tendency of the Blair administration to emulate the United States' so-called War on Drugs.
The media, too, has weighed in on the matter. In a January 2nd editorial, the Guardian newspaper said the sentence had "put Ruth Wyner and John Brock on the casualty list of the unwinnable war on drugs," and noted that "The undercover police operation at Wintercomfort has not only brought misfortune to the Wyner and Brock families but shown that the national fad for zero tolerance not only encourages the hounding of the destitute but also the persecution of those who help them."
This week, Wyner and Brock went to court asking leave for appeal, and for bail, but the Judge refused to give his response publicly, saying he would write it to them. Outside, some 50 supporters from around the country gathered in a show of solidarity for the Cambridge Two.