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West Berkshire drugs pilot a success, say police

Trial sees people caught with small amounts of drugs offered options other than arrest

John Herring

John Herring


01635 886633

Police  called to affray at Newbury playground

A POLICE drugs scheme being trialled in West Berkshire offering people caught with small amounts of illegal substances the chance to turn their lives around has been hailed a success.

Thames Valley Police (TVP) launched the three-month trial in December to allow people to be referred to an appointment instead of being arrested and taken into custody. 

Those found in possession of larger quantities of drugs, suspected of supplying illegal substances or those who do not engage with the specialist support, face arrest and prosecution.

A preliminary evaluation into the impact of the drugs diversion scheme showed that between 67 per cent and 84 per cent of those diverted for treatment would have received a sanction.

Head of the TVP Strategy Unit, detective superintendent Justin Fletcher, said: “The pilot of this scheme has been extended, which reflects its success in West Berkshire.

“We believe these initial results show that a new and innovative approach to tackling drug use in our communities is allowing us to help offenders for the first time and offer significant help to address drug issues.

“In a short amount of time, the scheme has made a difference in the way drug offences are dealt with in West Berkshire and this choice is aimed at helping the individual with the initial issue of drug use through support and education.”

The number of drug-related stop and searches carried out in West Berkshire increased by 11 to 100, while the number ofdrugs offences recorded increased by five to 84. 

The evaluation showed that 55 per cent of people did not engage with the drugs service provider after police referral. Of the people who did engage, 42 per cent completed the recommended actions.

Two people failed to go on to complete the treatment programme, 78 per cent of children completed the entire programme and 76 per cent of referrals were for possession of cannabis.

Two people who completed the course are now drug free.

The evaluation was carried out by TVP in partnership with drugs diversion course provider Swanswell and The Edge, part of West Berkshire Council.

Mr Fletcher said: “A warning or caution, which involves arrest, does not give an opportunity to establish the reasons behind the drug use.

“The drugs diversion scheme gives this option to those who are found with small quantities of drugs.

“Long term, the aim of this scheme is to move towards preventing the tragedy that too many families face of losing a loved one to a drugs-related death.

“It’s also been established in this pilot that this is not a step towards decriminalisation of drugs, but instead is focusing on the root cause for drug use.”

The pilot will run in West Berkshire until at least September and continue to be evaluated. 

The scheme has also led to non-cash savings to TVP.

Swanswell service manager Sian Orton said: “We believe everyone should have the opportunity to live healthy, safe and happy lives, and by providing a tailored diversion route and specialist support programme through Swanswell, we have an opportunity to engage with people who may never seek treatment.

“In doing so, we can work with them to address their use of drugs, reduce harm and make healthier choices.”

West Berkshire Council’s executive member for public health and well-being Rick Jones (Con, Tilehurst and Purley) said: “We are pleased to have been able to support the drugs diversion scheme both financially and as an active partner.

“The preliminary evaluation clearly shows that working to the needs of each individual is effective and cost efficient.

“There are many reasons for drug-related issues and by working closely in a person centred way means that the root cause is more likely to be found and alleviated, leaving people in a far better position to move forward.”

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Article comments

  • NoisyNortherner

    22/07/2019 - 09:30

    It's about time that something like this was tried out on a wider scale. There's myriad studies out there that criminalising minor drug offences does more harm than good.