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Straw's new bill would not have helped us, say the Reel family

IT TOOK 18 months of hard campaigning just to get the Police Complaints Authority to hand over to us their investigation into the death of my son, Ricky Reel. Jack Straw's freedom of information proposals should have made sure the fight we went through never, ever, happened to anyone again.

The Macpherson report into Stephen Lawrence's murder said that information about police investigations should be released to families unless it would cause "substantial harm". But as it stands Straw's proposals would do nothing to help families like us in our quest for the truth and to make the authorities accountable. The bill would only allow us to know what the police want to let out, such as how many officers were working on a case.

We knew from day one that the police had not taken my son's disappearance seriously, but they then spent the next 18 months hiding that fact from us. Why should we have to fight to find out whether the police are doing their job properly? Even now, we know there is more information that is being hidden from us.

I now have the report into the investigation into my son's death, but I am not allowed to show it to anyone. They say that if they gave us information we would spread it around and wreck any prosecution. That is an insult. As if we'd destroy the investigation into the death of my son by letting out sensitive material. Everyone should fight to give the government's freedom of information proposals some teeth. There should be no more victims of police cover ups.

A few words from Paul Foot

I THOUGHT Socialist Worker readers might be interested in my progress. My body has taken a terrific hammering but several things remain intact-my memory, for instance, and above all my INDIGNATION, which is fired not just by the war but by the craven complicity of the liberal press.

The record of meetings and agitation which I read in Socialist Worker is outstanding. Keep it up-and thanks for all your messages of support.

HAS NEW Labour’s “drugs tsar” got any solutions for young people like these?

War on drugs or on poor?

WHAT IS the reality behind the hype about drugs? First we had the furore surrounding the allegations of drug dealing against English rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio. And last week the government launched its national plan promising to halve drug use in Britain by the year 2008.

There has been an increase in the numbers of young people using heroin. But all New Labour's appointed "drugs tsar" Keith Hellawell could say was that this was because of the success of the government's "Ecstasy Kills" campaign! So the government has driven young people off one drug to take another!

Hellawell gets paid £106,000 a year to come out with this nonsense. It sums up this government's failure to tackle the real reasons young people take drugs. Some have lauded Labour's plan to cut drug use because it talks of providing education rather than punishment. The sort of education Labour is talking of is teaching "life skills" to parents and lecturing young people. It would be disastrous if the new plans are modelled on the "Ecstasy Kills" campaign, which instructed children to "just say no".

The experience of drugs workers like myself is that what really helps young people to deal with drugs is open discussion and debate. But many children have no access to drug education programmes, which are largely geared towards those already in the criminal justice system. Youth services have been cut to the bone. Above all, New Labour refuses to even talk about decriminalising drugs, which would help remove the stigma and open up a genuine debate.

Heroin is a powerful painkiller, often described as being like a "warm blanket" which gives people a sense of wellbeing and security. Young people need such a painkiller because their dreams and hopes are being smashed by this government as much as the last. They face crappy New Deal jobs, cuts in housing benefit, a pathetically low minimum wage and student fees which wipe out the chance of going to university. Unless the social reasons why young people take drugs are tackled, New Labour's war on drugs will become a war on some of the poorest drug users.

The immoral 'moral agent'

THE LEFT wing writer Christopher Hitchens provoked astonishment last week when he defended NATO's intervention in Yugoslavia at a packed meeting at Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. He was speaking about his book, No One Left To Lie To, an acerbic assault on US president Bill Clinton.

In the book Hitchens attacks Clinton's bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan: "The worker killed at the plant, the workers whose livelihood depended upon it, and those further down the stream whose analgesics and antibiotics never arrived, and whose names are not recorded, will not be present when the recompenses are agreed. They were expendable objects of Clinton's ruthless vanity."

But last week Hitchens called NATO a "moral agent". How on earth could NATO be a "moral agent"? Of all the words to use! His book indicts the most immoral president of a most immoral political system which is now leading us all into a just and moral war!


HUNDREDS OF angry campaigners in Sheffield are fighting for justice after an 18 year old black youth was repeatedly run over by an unmarked police car. Anthony Green was knocked off his bicycle by a police officer. The officer ran him over again when, terrified, Anthony tried to escape on foot. Police claim Anthony was mistaken for a 27 year old armed robber. But the only connection is that they are both black.

Outrageously, South Yorkshire Police are treating the assault as a "traffic incident", despite the fact there are reliable witnesses. No wonder over 200 people attended a recent meeting in Sheffield on British justice where Anthony's mum was on the platform. The campaign has also received huge support in the local area where police "stop and search" of local youth has dramatically increased. We're now planning to march to the police station on Saturday 5 June.

Lecturers proud to be on strike

LAST WEEK'S strike action by university lecturers was brilliant. At Bristol University over 100 people turned up to picket from 6.30 in the morning. There was a real sense of unity and of pride in the union on the picket lines.

One of the best things about the day was the solidarity which we received both from other university workers and from other trade unionists. Everyone from electricity workers to postal workers to the man delivering clean towels to Senate House refused to cross our picket lines. A rally of over 150 heard speakers from all the campus unions, including the president of Bristol student union.

The strike helped to show that the AUT is not just a lukewarm professional association but a trade union whose members can make it fight. People are now joining across the campus, with lots of new people becoming union activists for the first time. We are all getting ready to continue the battle for decent pay.

Seen, not heard

IT WAS refreshing to hear Liz Davies of the Labour Party national executive speak to a fringe meeting at the Communication Workers Union conference last week. She brought home how little discussion and democracy there is at the top of the Labour Party. Tony Blair told the executive its job was to take the government's message to the party, not to reflect the views of ordinary members.

Liz Davies also spoke out against the war. She said it was clear that bombing had failed to deliver for the refugees and would mean more civilian casualties. She spoke of her frustration that at each executive meeting she was allowed only one question to the prime minister. Should she ask about the war, or disability benefits, or jury trials, or freedom of information?

However, in the discussion that followed Liz insisted that the Labour Party was the only way forward at the moment. This view leads to problems. The Grassroots Alliance, of which Liz is a member, includes Mark Seddon, the editor of Tribune. He is one of the most vocal supporters not just of the bombing of the Balkans, but of a land war as well. Because the left focuses on elections inside the party they are driven to such alliances, and anti-war Liz Davies ends up calling for a vote for rabidly pro-war Seddon.

We won't go back to 1930s

I AM not a scrounger. After breaking my neck in a car crash in 1984 I believed state benefits were a right that working class people had fought and paid for. My dad served in the Second World War, and then paid taxes for 30 years. He got a pittance off the state when he developed cancer at the age of 60, despite paying thousands of pounds in taxes. My dad fought fascism, but he also fought to not go back to the miserable conditions working class people suffered in the 1930s.

New Labour's attack on Incapacity Benefit brings back 1930s style means testing. But we will not take this quietly. For years I watched the Tories sneakily undermine every advance working class people had wrung out of the British state. I and millions of others did not vote to see Labour go where the Tories feared to tread.