[Hpn] Free The Cambridge Two! - by chance martin

Coalition on Homelessness, SF coh@sfo.com
Sun, 23 Apr 2000 16:59:59 -0700


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Help Homeless People - go to prison
Free The Cambridge Two!
by chance martin

On December 17th 1999, Ruth Wyner and John Brock, the Director and 
Manager of the Wintercomfort Day Centre in Cambridge, England, were 
sentenced to prison at Cambridge Crown Court. They were arrested in 
May 1998 following an undercover police investigation of their 
homeless drop-in center which revealed that some homeless people were 
dealing drugs at or around the drop-in center. Under Britain's 
zero-tolerance drug policy, Ruth and John were charged with managing 
a premises and "knowingly allowing or suffering to be permitted" the 
supply of heroin contrary to Section 8 of England's 1971 Misuse of 
Drugs Act.

Despite the fact no suggestion was made that Ruth and John - who 
between them have spent over thirty years helping homeless people - 
had been involved in any drug dealing themselves, or that the dealing 
benefited them in any way, they were convicted eighteen months later. 
Ruth - a married mother of two children - was sentenced to five years 
in prison. John, who was arrested at his home in front of his wife 
and two children, drew four years.

"This is like blaming the fire department for being at the scene of a 
fire," said Dennis Hayes, outreach worker for Wintercomfort's 
shelter. "There's a drug epidemic and we're being blamed for it."

Wintercomfort is a Cambridge-based charity that runs the only drop-in 
center for homeless people in South Cambridgeshire, providing medical 
services (most doctors in England won't treat people who lack a home 
address), job training and confidence-building courses, help with 
rent and deposit for housing, and referrals to emergency winter 
shelters. Wintercomfort assists about a hundred people to move off 
the streets and into stable housing yearly. Between 60 and 160 people 
visit the center daily.

At the time Ruth and John were arrested, Wintercomfort was an open 
door drop-in center, meaning that anyone - regardless of background, 
reputation, disability or substance use - could turn up and find a 
cheap meal, washing facilities, free clothing and support and advice.

The police operation began in February 1998 when two undercover 
policemen calling themselves 'Ed' and 'Swampy' began haunting the 
drop-in center and involving themselves in secret drug deals taking 
place between some of the homeless customers. They were backed up by 
a surveillance camera hidden under the roof of a building on the 
opposite side of the street.

In May, 1998, the investigation concluded with the arrests of eight 
drug dealers, and Ruth and John. By the end of their trial, 18 months 
later, it became clear that one of the prosecution's two principal 
issues was whether or not John and Ruth should give the names of 
suspected drug dealers to the police.

They argued that they should not because this would put Wintercomfort 
staff at risk from reprisals and underline the principle of client 
confidentiality that was an important element in helping homeless 
people come off the streets. The judge ruled that client 
confidentiality was not a defense in law.

The other issue concerned the extent of the drug problem at the 
drop-in center. The prosecution argued that Ruth and John were not 
doing enough to combat it. Ruth and John responded that this was 
because they had not been aware of how pervasive it was and that they 
did not have the resources to address the problem more effectively.

Release, Britain's national drug helpline, informally surveyed over 
600 homeless services staff, and estimates that at least half of them 
have violated Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Kevin 
Flemen, senior project officer with Release, says the case has 
created a lot of anxiety among staff working with at-risk groups. "We 
have been swamped with calls by managers saying they are operating in 
the dark and need advice," he said. "The message from the authorities 
is that you must prevent supplying taking place. Doing your best is 
not good enough."

Thousands have demonstrated across Britain for Ruth and John's 
release, and now the Cambridge Two Campaign is gathering 
international attention and support. Ruth and John are currently 
serving the fifth month of their sentences.

"The convictions have caused outrage across the country", said 
Alexander Masters, Chairman of the Cambridge Two Campaign. "Ruth and 
John were doing their best to do their jobs, helping the homeless to 
get off drugs. They regularly liaised with police and Ruth spoke out 
about the heroin in the press and at conferences. Yet instead of 
co-operating with their work, the police arrested them. They've 
destroyed the lives of two dedicated charity workers and their 
families."

To learn more about the Cambridge Two and how you can help, visit the 
Cambridge Two Campaign's website:

http://www.cambridgetwo.com





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