Drugs advisory panel candidates ‘vetted for views on Brexit and Windrush’

The Home Office vetted candidates for an independent drugs advisory panel for their views on Brexit and the Windrush scandal, it has been claimed.

Professor Alex Stevens quit the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs earlier this month after saying political interference was undermining its independence.

The academic made the allegations during his first public speech since his resignation at a talk organised by independent educational charity the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College, London, on Wednesday night.

He joined Professor David Nutt, who was dismissed from his post as chairman of the panel 10 years ago after he criticised policy, saying ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes.

Prof Stevens (pictured), who researches criminal justice at the University of Kent, accused government political advisers of “vetting” people “for what they have said on Twitter about the Windrush scandal and Brexit” as well as their views on drug policy.

He said: “When this came to light I asked for the Government to be more transparent about how it was making such decisions and that it would not make such decisions political.

“This transparency has not been forthcoming, which is why I resigned.”

Prof Stevens also raised fears of the Government pursuing “tough on law and order” policies that were not based on evidence, something he accused former Prime Minister Theresa May as well as the current Tory leader and Home Secretary of doing.

He said: “This pursuit of tough policies on the basis of a Conservative morality of puritanism and control is one of the main barriers we have to introducing evidence-informed policies in this country.

“I’m very afraid that as we go into this election campaign we are going to see more and more of it.

“We already have Priti Patel and Boris Johnson coming out with a raft of policies to make them look tough on law and order but have no evidence behind them.

“It’s a shame you can’t say 10 years later there has been an improvement (in drugs policy).”

At the time of his departure, a Government spokesman said in a statement: “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.”

In a further scathing attack on the lack of change in Government drug policy, Prof Stevens said the Home Office always resorts to a “boiler plate press statement”, saying there were “no plans to do anything”.

He said the Home Office rejects recommendations but also accused it of using “more insidious ways” to avoid bringing in change, claiming it would “pretend to accept recommendations but never implement them”, adding: “It’s just not honest to say the government has this (drugs problems) in hand.”

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