Council paid drug dealers and addicts hundreds of pounds of taxpayers' money 'to find out about their trade'
By Ryan Kisiel
Last updated at 1:21 AM on 16th May 2009
Drug dealers and addicts were paid hundreds of pounds of taxpayers' money to take part in a question and answer session.
The money was used to interview heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis dealers to gain 'intelligence' on the 'complex' drugs problem.
After the interviews, Labour-run Lambeth Council in South London even extended a 'special thanks' to the dealers for their patience.
Drug dealers conduct their business in the heart of Brixton, selling heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis
Yesterday, critics described the initiative as grotesque and a disgraceful waste of public money that would allow addicts to feed their habit.
Council officers located sellers and users through drug addiction services and the prison service.
They then offered several dealers a fee, thought to be around £50, to answer questions for about an hour. All the interviews remained confidential.
Questions included the quality of drugs that they sold, how much they earned and what they thought of their local area.
In the official report published after the interviews, the council thanked the dealers for their participation. It said: 'We would like to extend a special thanks to all the sellers we interviewed for the candour and patience with which they described their activities to us.'
The report concluded that some dealers earn up to £5,000 a week and carry weapons or have 'easy access' to them.
Police officers patrol the streets of Brixton in south London
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: 'This does not look as if Lambeth has been spending public money very wisely.
'It's clearly important to understand the drug problem, but we should also not make it worse.'
Conservative MP Patrick Mercer said: 'The idea of paying criminals is grotesque.
'If the council want intelligence-led work then funding their police force properly or a needle exchange programme to take drugs off the street would be money much better spent.'
Mark Wallace, a spokesman for the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'It's absolutely disgraceful that hard-earned taxpayers' money has been paid out to drug dealers.
'This money has gone straight into the coffers of organised crime.
'This would not seem such a "complex problem" if Lambeth would stop pussy-footing around crime and start enforcing the law by helping to bring drug dealers to justice rather than paying them.'
Dealers were using the Tube and railway stations in the area
It is not the first time that Lambeth Council has been criticised for wasting taxpayers' money.
In November last year, the council revealed it was spending £90,000 to send reflexologists into its schools to massage the feet of unruly pupils.
Medical experts say there is little evidence such treatment can improve the behaviour of young tearaways.
Responding to criticism of the drugs initiative, a Lambeth Council spokesman said: 'This was a complex issue and we needed detailed intelligence to tackle it, which is why we interviewed dealers as part of our research.
'In line with good research practice, a small payment was offered so that people would take part.
'As a direct result of this research we've been in a better position to tackle the drugs market and 15 per cent fewer residents now perceive drug crime to be a problem.'