David Cameron’s role as Prime Minister will always heavily be associated with Great Britain leaving Europe. And whilst his critics, rightly or wrongly, have a field day as he hands over the reins at Number 10 to Theresa May, let’s spare a thought for something profoundly good he did that will save untold lives and prevent millions of young people being harmed in the months, years and decades to come.
My journey began in 2009 following the death of my youngest daughter, Hester, a 21 year old medical student, student mentor and cheerleader passed away after being given a substance know as a legal high following an awards dinner. Hester was far from a drug taker. I was completely shocked that as a medical family we knew nothing about these substances known as legal highs, perceived as safe because they were legal, yet capable of claiming a young life.
Hester had been given GBL, otherwise known as paint stripper, by a friend who thought it was safe because it was legal. After she passed away I discovered that the substance she had been given had already been banned for personal consumption in many other countries around the world 4 years earlier. The then Home Secretary in the Labour Government, Jacqui Smith, sat on her hands ignoring the warnings of the expert committees in both Europe and the UK to raise awareness and failed to take any action. I was outraged and wanted an explanation so made an appointment to see her.
Whilst as a family we made some minor inroads with Alan Johnson, who took over from Jacqui Smith the day before we were due to meet, the real traction began when the issue reached the Conservative Party Manifesto in 2010. Thanks to the help of a team of world class experts who came on the Advisory Board of the Angelus Foundation which I set up in memory of Hester, and James Brokenshire, the then Crime Prevention Minister, who steered us through the corridors of Westminster so that our voices were heard loud and clear.
Our starting point was zero awareness across the board, with the exception of key experts, who themselves were grappling with the limited information. I wrote to David Cameron to bring the issue to his attention for many more young people were dying or being robbed of their mental and physical wellbeing. He wrote back with condolences and promised to get his Government to help control the situation.
In the early days under David Cameron’s watch an order was put into place for substances that looked dangerous to be banned quickly. Our celebrations were short lived however, as we came to realize that this was not a solution to the ever escalating problem. For as soon as a ban was in place for a particular substance the chemists, mainly in China, tweaked the molecules and introduced a new substance that same week. By 2014 there were over 100 new substances identified in Europe.
In 2015, after relentless campaigning by the Angelus Foundation, helped greatly by the then Drugs Minister Norman Baker, the Government undertook a full review. The recommendations of the review panel, many of whom were on the Angelus Advisory Board, were everything that Angelus had asked for. With a bit of fancy footwork by Angelus in the following months, after 7 years of relentless campaigning, and
Law changes we achieved in the meantime, we finally got the Psychoactive Substance Bill introduced, which was the first Bill mentioned in the Queens Speech in the summer of 2015.
The new Bill, which became law in May 2016, is a huge win for both the Government and the Angelus team as it means that legal highs are now banned in the UK. As a result of the Psychoactive Substance Bill coming into force over 500 retail outlets closed down, more than 115 websites ceased trading and lots of other initiatives have been triggered across Europe and further afield due to the raised awareness.
And, as a result of the Angelus initiative and the Government taking us seriously, the profile of legal highs, which numbered 101 new substances on the market last year, has been raised beyond belief. Numerous other charities are now raising awareness and undertaking research and Local Authorities are demanding education in their regions so that young people come to understand the associated dangers.
Untold numbers of young people will stay safe and families, unlike my own, will remain whole, never knowing the life sentence of losing a child needlessly. I tip my hat to David Cameron and thank him most sincerely for caring enough to support our campaign. Parents across the country will now be able to sleep easier in their beds, rightfully expecting their children to return home safely after a night out.
Despite your political persuasion, or whether you voted to remain or leave, the chances of keeping your children safe is greatly increased by the legacy from David Cameron. In my book that shouldn’t go untold or remain unacknowledged.