22 FEB 2018

Robert's Law would boost the war on drugs with tougher sentences

A few months ago Michelle Fraser came to see me at one of my surgeries to talk about her son. Robert had been killed after unknowingly taking a deadly drug called fentanyl. He was just 18 years old.

Michelle's love for her son shone through at that meeting. Robert meant everything to her and had been taken at such a young age. Yet she refused to despair and give up hope. From the first moment it was clear Michelle was a fighter. That she wanted justice for her son – for him to leave a legacy. I was determined to do all I could to help.

Firstly, we've been spreading the word about the dangers of fentanyl – a synthetic opioid dozens of times stronger than heroin. Just three grains of this hidden poison can be enough to cause death. Robert was by no means an addict. This could have happened to anyone's son or daughter. Fentanyl killed 20,000 people in the US last year, up from 3,000 three years before. Deaths here have also increased in recent months.

We've been working with our local police force too. Kent Police's head of substance misuse, DCS Tom Richards, agrees we should find a better way of regulating fentanyl. Yet we also need more police on the streets to stop the dealers. So it's welcome that last week our campaign to boost local police funding was won – with an £8 million secured – and that our Police and Crime Commissioner plans to recruit 200 more officers.

And now we have taken a significant step on the road to creating "Robert's Law" – which would mean tougher sentencing for those who supply fentanyl. We want the Drug Offences guideline to be revised, including fentanyl for the first time and placing it in the most serious category for harm. That would increase minimum jail terms from three years to six. "Potency" should be included among aggravating factors, meaning longer jail terms in general.

In a letter last week, Sentencing Council chairman Lord Justice Treacy agreed that the guideline needed to address new drugs and drug offending behaviour, and promised a review would commence "shortly". He has also asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to "consider issuing any guidance to prosecutors that may be appropriate" in the meantime. He said the issue of fentanyl and the sentencing of cases involving it will be fully considered during discussions to revise the guideline. This is encouraging news.

If we keep up the fight and push through these changes to the law, they will send an instant and powerful message to drug dealers: Do not even think about getting involved with this stuff – you will be punished for the misery you inflict.

Throughout this fight, Michelle's bravery has been incredible. She is determined to save lives and make Robert's Law a reality. As Michelle says: "That means my son mattered. That can be my boy's legacy."

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Charlie Elphicke

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