Fury at police suggestion of drugs tolerance zone for capital city centre

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POLICE have come under fierce attack from experts and politicians after mooting the creation of a drugs tolerance zone in the centre of Edinburgh.

An inspector responsible for policing the city centre suggested that officers should stop arresting people caught carrying small amounts of drugs to increase the amount of officers available to carry out street patrols in Scotland's capital.

But the proposal, raised at a meeting of police officers and leaked to the media, has triggered a barrage of criticism, with one expert saying it would turn the city into a "drugs fair".

Inspector Andy Gilhooley, who has just taken charge of the central policing team at the city's West End police station, aired the plan with officers last week.

He said: "If someone is caught with 2 of a drug, is arresting the person the best use of police time? This is something that has happened in various UK cities and we are now looking at it. We're looking for best working practice. We have a responsibility to provide a high-visibility presence. That's one measure we're considering to see if it's worth pursuing. Is it worth it? My personal answer is yes, it is."

Encouraging door staff at clubs and pubs to stop calling the police when they catch someone carrying drugs for personal use, and instead confiscating the drugs and storing them for collection by officers at a later date, was also discussed.

Lothian and Borders Police last night insisted there were no plans to introduce such moves, pointing out that approval from David Strang, the force's Chief Constable, and discussions with the Crown Office would be required.

Pauline McNeill, Labour's justice spokeswoman, said that the move "sends the wrong signal". She added: "I understand the officer's desire to have more visibility in the streets. That's what people want. But this isn't the way to do it." Bill Aitken, the Scottish Tories' justice spokesman, said: "This sends a disastrous message. A zero-tolerance approach needs to be followed or Scotland's drug problems will get even worse."

Neil McKeganey, professor of drug misuse research at Glasgow University, described the proposal as "extraordinary." He added: "If one wanted to turn Edinburgh city centre into a drugs fair, this is how to do it."

He claimed senior police officers were "too willing to divest themselves of the responsibility of policing drugs".

A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police said: "The idea was raised at an informal police briefing, where staff were encouraged to think about ways in which we could be more sophisticated in our approach to policing in the city centre. This was merely a discussion point, and we have no plans to take this suggestion further. Our focus remains on providing the highest levels of policing."