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Blog: The problems with “naming and shaming” middle class drug users

17 Aug 2021

Jenny Wiltshire, Head of Serious and General Crime, has written a blog in which she addresses the Home Secretary Priti Patel’s recent reported plan to empower the police to “name and shame” middle class drug users.

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The Home Secretary Priti Patel has caused a stir with her reported plan to start “naming and shaming” middle class drug users.

According to reports in the Times newspaper and elsewhere, the Home Secretary wants the police to make “public examples of business owners and wealthy [drug] users [in order] to change the perception that Class A drugs can be taken without consequence.”

The Times quoted a police source saying police have “been told to actively look for high-profile individuals to arrest – those who see drugs as a part of their lifestyle and don’t believe that there will be any ramifications.”

Cocaine use at university is also reported to be targeted, with raids during freshers’ week reportedly under consideration.

While the media reports do not spell out precisely how the Home Secretary intends to carry out any such plan – or whether she intends to join the raids (as she did on various immigration arrests in May this year) – the proposals may have significant legal ramifications.

For example, calling for senior police officers to “name and shame” criminal suspects raises a serious concern about the legality of making public the identity of any individual who has not yet been charged with a criminal offence.

In ZXC v Bloomberg 2020, the Court of Appeal, following the Cliff Richard case, ruled that someone suspected of committing a criminal offence has a reasonable expectation of privacy. This right to privacy is a general one and not dependant on the type of crime, nor the suspect’s identity.

For the rule of law to be effective there must be equality before the law. Singling out high profile and professional individuals is not treating people equally. 

It seems likely that any attempt by the Home Secretary to drive through any “name and shame” policy would run in to serious legal challenge. The reputational impact of such as policy on “middle class” professional individuals – particularly those working in regulated professions such as banking, the law and medicine – could be devastating.

There may be political problems too.

For the Home Secretary to continue with such a policy when a member of her own cabinet has admitted taking cocaine on several occasions risks attracting the accusation of hypocrisy.

Beyond this, Ms Patel’s plan is likely to have a limited effect on the fight against crime as it will divert scant resources away from efforts that might actually be effective at disrupting the drug networks.

The Home Secretary’s reported “name and shame” plan may be effective in grabbing media headlines but it appears to be more of an admission of a failure to clamp down on violent drug gangs than a workable policy.


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