Drugs expert quits Home Office advisory panel over claims of political interference

A senior member of the Home Office’s drugs advisory panel has quit, claiming political interference is undermining its independence.

Professor Alex Stevens, who worked on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said he resigned over “political vetting” of panel members by the Government.

In a tweet, Mr Stevens (pictured), who is a professor in criminal justice at the University of Kent, said: “I have resigned from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

“Recent political vetting and exclusion of suitably qualified applicants to join means that the ACMD is losing its independence.”

In 2009, the Government’s chief drugs adviser Professor David Nutt was sacked by home secretary Alan Johnson after he criticised policy, saying ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes.

Five other members of the panel resigned in the wake of the row and Prof Nutt has now set up a rival group.

The sacking forced ministers to reaffirm publicly their commitment to the independence of advisers.

Responding to the departure of Mr Stevens, Prof Nutt said: “The news that a leading expert on drug policy has resigned because the Home Office rejected another well-qualified expert for political reasons shows they have learnt nothing in the decade since my sacking.

“Surely it’s now time to put the responsibility for drug policy in the Department of Health who at least understand the meaning of evidence.”

A Government spokesman said: “Ministers are responsible for appointing members to the boards of public bodies and do so in line with the governance code for public appointments.

“The names of candidates are submitted to ministers following assessment by an independent Advisory Assessment Panel. It is then for ministers to determine merit and make the final appointment.

“The Commissioner for Public Appointments has highlighted the importance of due diligence checks, including relevant social media content, to inform ministers’ decisions.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) University Of Kent.