A CHIEF constable who wants the NHS to give heroin to addicts has faced down his critics, insisting he is “going sensible, not soft” on drugs.

Tough-talking Mike Barton, who on becoming head of Durham Police promised an “Al Capone approach” to smashing organised crime, made a shock plea for class A drugs to be decriminalised last autumn.

But speaking to The Northern Echo today (Thursday, March 13), he insisted: “I’m not going soft on drugs, I’m going sensible.

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“I’ve been throwing the kitchen sink at drug dealers for 38 years but things are worse now than when I started.

“Drugs are more freely available, purer, cheaper and there’s a greater range available.

“I’m not saying we should give up what we’re doing. Quite the opposite: we should continue. But we need to do something different on top.”

A six-month operation which cost his force £750,000 and led to 33 arrests disrupted the drug supply for just two to four hours, Mr Barton said two recovering addicts had told him.

“Even before we’d interviewed those we’d arrested, the drug supply had been re-connected.”

Most criminal gangs are making money from drugs and many addicts being given methadone are “topping up” with heroin, Mr Barton said.

It is these addicts he wants given “therapeutic heroin” in health centres.

“The evidence is if you give people NHS heroin, they get off drugs quicker, they are healthier and they commit far less crime.”

Such evidence does not exist for other class A drugs, he said, but added: “Society must have that debate.”

Mr Barton rejected claims he was straying from his role to enforce the law, saying: “I’m a straightforward cop who’s got his foot on the neck of criminals.”

And he pledged: “If people think I’m wrong, I’ll shut up.”

Mr Barton said his officers had smashed 29 criminal gangs since 2008, but the number operating in the force area had only fallen from 43 to 35; and it is estimated there are 1,700 heroin addicts across County Durham and Darlington.

Mr Barton’s stance is supported by Durham Police Commissioner Ron Hogg but the Association of Chief Police Officers says it is a matter for Parliament.