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A tribute to Eddie Ellison
It was with great sadness we learnt that Eddie Ellison, a long time friend and Patron of Transform, had lost his battle with cancer on January 29th this year.
Our relationship with Eddie goes all the way back to the early days of Transform. He was one of our first supporters, becoming a powerful advocate for the organisation and for the cause of drug policy and law reform, his distinguished background in drug enforcement lending great credibility to both.
Eddie’s 30 years in the police, 23 of them in drug enforcement, gave him arguably more experience in the field than any other British detective. From his early days in the 70’s working to prevent drug smuggling with H M Customs at Heathrow airport, and combating major drug supply networks in London, he progressed to the rank of Detective Chief Inspector becoming operational commander of the Scotland Yard Central Drugs Squad, during which time he was awarded the UK Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He later went on, as Detective Chief Superintendent, to head the Crime Policy Group of Specialist Operations Department, worked with the Association of Chief Police Officers review teams that restructured the Regional Crime Squads and Drug Wings and worked with the team that justified and created the National Criminal Intelligence Service. He was a police legend.
It is typical of his disarming honesty and sense of humour that in the biography on his website he noted:
“I should also admit being the detective who didn’t bring the Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs, back from Barbados, led the first London covert operation where the bad guys stole a large sum of money from the police (yes, I did get it back but it was a long twenty minutes!) and got disqualified for jointly entering a cannabis plant in the Scotland Yard Horticultural Society Show, category ‘Single Pot Plant’ - the judge insisted it was a vegetable!”
It was during his time working in drug enforcement that he, in his own words:
‘recognised the futility of relying solely on prohibition to lessen the effects of drug abuse on the community’.
Unlike many of his fellow police who shared his concerns, he had the courage to speak out against the system whilst still a serving officer, defending the organisation Release as far back as 1974 (he later became a trustee), and calling for the legalisation of cannabis in 1985.
When he retired in 1993 he became much more active in campaigning for drug law reform, bringing his wealth of experience to bear on the debate with an eloquence and authority it had not witnessed until then. He was undoubtedly a pioneer, going where others feared to tread. In doing so he prepared the ground for other reforming senior police that came after him, including Francis Wilkinson (former Chief Constable of Gwent), and Richard Brunstrom (serving Chief Constable of North Wales).
His campaigning blazed a trail that included groundbreaking opinion pieces in the Telegraph (Legalise Drugs Now: it’s the only answer 1993), the Daily Mail (I’m determined my children won’t get hooked – legalise 1998), the Independent (Law motivates criminal activity 1994), and the Guardian (Don’t be such a dope Mr Howard 1994), amongst countless others. He was also a regular fixture in broadcast media with appearances on programmes ranging from Kilroy, to Panorama, Newsnight, and Radio 4’s the Today programme (a more complete list here) . His brilliant insight and informed analysis undoubtedly helped persuade many key figures of the futility of prohibition and the need for reform, also contributing considerably to the evolution of Transform’s message over the years.
Eddie would often turn up unannounced at the Transform office ‘for a quick chat’ because he was ‘just passing through’, before staying for hours (occasionally all day) discussing politics and the intricacies of drug policy reform, and regaling us with astonishing stories from his time in the police.
As a loving father of two children he was always adamant that reform of the drug laws was essential to protect young people, and was always keen to restate his status as resolutely anti-drugs. He showed very clearly how a compassionate view towards problem drug users and a desire to reduce drug misuse and harm to wider society to the lowest possible level was entirely compatible with a pragmatic position on the failure of prohibition and the need for regulatory alternatives to be explored.
"Each and every police officer has their own ranking of the relative seriousness of all criminal offences that is often based on their background experiences. However hard they try, their attitudes and behaviour are often affected by that assessment. I have never, and can never, see the drug user as a 'criminal'. I see them as, amongst other descriptions, a rebellious youth, a risk taking idiot, a seeker of relief, a lobbyist for independent thought and freedom, someone in need of guidance and help or a very real exasperation to parents and friends. But in as much as the drug use is concerned, not a criminal and therefore the criminal law cannot be the appropriate weapon to counter or deter a choice of use."
The last time I saw him was at the summer 2006 Release ‘Drugs University’ conference where he was running a stall for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, (I was running one for Transform). LEAP is made up of 1000s current and former law enforcement and criminal justice proffessionals who are speaking out about the failures of our existing drug policies. Eddie sat on the advisory board of http://leap.cc/LEAP, and ran the UK section of this exciting new world-wide campaigning organisation, founded in 2002. He was handing out leaflets, debating, cajoling, and persuading; campaigning with as much enthusiasm and passion as ever, right up until the end of his life.
Eddie, we’ll miss you
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