The police don't exactly come out of this in a good light. Interesting article from the Guardian (UK) (http://society.guardian.co.uk/drugsandalcohol/story/0,,1801821,00.html) :
Dealing with reality
[FONT=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]She was a well-loved grandmother and a respected community figure. She was also a drug dealer and addict. Julie Bindel on the strange life and death of Lillian Taylor[/FONT]
[FONT=Geneva,Arial,sans-serif]Wednesday June 21, 2006
The funeral of Lillian Taylor was like that of any other well-loved and respected figure. Scores of people attended to pay their respects and share the grief with her family. The funeral cortege was adorned with flowers spelling "Mum" and "Nan". Her death was sudden and unexpected and the mourners' grief was raw. Passers-by might have assumed that Taylor was a pillar of her community - and in a strange, mixed up way, she was.
What would have surprised those casual onlookers is the way Taylor died. In 2002, during a police drugs raid on her home, she swallowed a lethal amount of cocaine in an attempt to conceal it. The inquest into her death concluded last week that she need not have died, and that lessons should be learned from the mistakes made by police and medical professionals present when she was in custody.
But her death raised other questions - not least, what led a 50-year-old, otherwise respectable, woman to become a drug dealer?
Taylor grew up and lived all her life in Fleetwood, Lancashire. She came from a close-knit, working-class family and enjoyed a happy childhood. She had children and grandchildren and an extended "family" of friends and neighbours, who were often round at her small but cosy council house. She was known as someone who was always willing to help those in need. But at the time of her death, Taylor had also been addicted to amphetamines for 20 years.
Her drug use was probably linked to her marital break up, and the pressures of having young children to care for and not much money. Taylor dealt amphetamines and anti-depressants to fund her habit, and also, it seems, out of a warped sense of public service. "Lillian was well aware that a lot of folk in the area use both prescribed and illegal drugs," says one police officer who knew Taylor. "And although she was breaking the law, and was wrong to deal in them, she probably thought she was doing those people good, giving them what they needed."
Taylor's sister, Jennifer Bidle, claims she made only tiny amounts of money from selling drugs. "She only dealt in the neighbourhood, and never to kids," she says. According to Bidle, most of Taylor's money went on her grandchildren. "She never really wanted anything for herself, just for her family to be OK." Taylor always owed money to her suppliers. She would never turn down a request from women in the community who were depressed and anxious and needed something to help them get through the day. "Lillian knew better than anyone how those women would feel if they could not get their fix," Bidle says.
All this sounds sentimental justification. Yet many people who knew her, including the majority of police officers who came across her, did not consider her a typical drug dealer. At the inquest, one police officer described her as a "lovable rogue". Certainly, she did not conform to the usual dealer stereotype. Ten years ago, a weekly women's magazine ran a piece on Taylor, painting her as a kindly neighbour who sold speed to housewives anxious to lose weight.
Taylor had a clumsy, if well-intentioned value system when it came to drugs. She was strongly opposed to heroin use. And although Taylor started using cocaine two years before she died, after the death of her mother, she would not deal in it because it is a "hard" drug. Amphetamines, she believed, were justified because they are available on prescription.
Taylor was a contradiction. She used and sold drugs, but she was seen, by some at least, as a kind of community resource. In an age of zero-tolerance towards drugs, what she did seems inexcusable. Yet her role was complex. She understood that women living lives of poverty and abuse wanted to block out reality with the drugs she supplied, and she also attempted to provide a rudimentary rehabilitation service, which may have prevented some youngsters from slipping into heroin use, and helped some to break the addiction.
Places on drug rehabilitation programmes were relatively hard to get in the Fleetwood area, mainly due to the large number of drug users. Lancashire Drug Action Team admits that there are still difficulties for people who need these services, though waiting times have dropped over the last 12 months.
Fleetwood is an area known for its high crime, low employment and rampant drug use, especially amphetamines, although in recent years heroin and crack cocaine have begun to take over. Taylor would allow addicts to "do their rattle" (drug-takers' parlance for coming off heroin) at her home, supplying sleeping pills and methadone to ease withdrawal symptoms. Family members would find heroin addicts sleeping on the sofa, and on one occasion when the house was full, a young man sleeping in her cupboard, trying to keep away from drugs.
It was a bitter, if not entirely unexpected, blow when some members of Taylor's family also became drug users, despite her attempts to keep her drug habit private. "When Lillian's oldest daughter started using heroin, Lillian was devastated," Bidle says. "But she tried not to blame herself, because she was dead against it and made it plain to everyone who would listen." Taylor's family were aware of her drug use, but never discussed it. "We were all very close," Bidle says, "but none of us ever talked to her about the drugs, although we all knew what she was doing."
March 16 2002 was an ordinary Saturday in the Taylor household. Family and friends were visiting and the atmosphere was relaxed. Stephen Jones, an 18-year-old heroin addict from Wales, was staying at the house, doing his rattle. Taylor had taken him in because he was trying to get clean but could not find a place on a drug rehab programme. Joanne, Taylor's eldest daughter who was visiting at the time, recalls: "All of a sudden we heard the door crash open and men shouting, 'Police, nobody move, this is a drugs raid.' They were masked up and looked like Robocop."
After being taken to the police station, Taylor was interviewed and left in a cell overnight. She did not admit to swallowing the package until just before 10.30pm, more than six hours after the raid, no doubt concerned about being in even worse trouble if she admitted possession of cocaine. She had begun to feel unwell, and asked to see the forensic medical examiner (FME). On examining Taylor he concluded that she was "probably lying" and, rather than advising that Taylor be taken to the hospital, he suggested regular checks by the custody sergeant.
At 3.12am, Taylor was found dead in her cell. Police claimed at the inquest that she had been checked at 2.45am and was "sitting up" and appeared fine. Joanne was also arrested at the raid, and awoke to be informed of her mother's death a few cells away from her. "I can't tell you how that felt," she says. "All I could think of was they let her die like a dog."
Although Taylor was known as "small time" in the drug-dealing world, police had to justify the raid on her home. "Taylor was allegedly responsible for contaminating a number of people's lives," one officer said in his statement to the inquest. Another claimed that "there was a young lad of about 14 there when we raided who was hooked on heroin because of her. She ruins people's lives." The "young lad" was Jones, the 18-year-old doing his rattle. Jones has since hanged himself in prison, having gone back on heroin. "There was no one else to help him," Joanne says.
Lancashire police last week declined an offer to comment on the case.
The jury at the inquest concluded that Taylor was not afforded adequate care while in police custody, and that had she been, her life may have been saved. They were able to make criticisms of the lack of care she received in custody despite her being a small-time drug dealer.
Bidle says: "The verdict is brilliant because it is obvious that the jury did not look at Lillian and think, 'She's just a junky scumbag,' or 'Her family are no-hopers.'" While Taylor was both a criminal and a drug addict, she had a sense of right and wrong. She saw herself as helping those needing to block out the pain of life by self-medication, and trying to help them steer clear of violent dealers and heroin.
How people such as Taylor should be dealt with by the authorities is a difficult question. Chris Ford, a GP based in north London, who trains medical professionals to work with drug users, believes the lack of adequate medical care Taylor received is not unusual for people in her situation. "It seems to me that this woman received bad care because she was seen as a bad person, as are other drug users and dealers."
A neighbour of Taylor's, who asked not to be named, says that since her death the only thing that has changed in terms of drug use in the area is that most amphetamine and anti-depressant addicts are now going to "proper" dealers, who use strong-arm tactics to recover debts and who also sell heroin and crack cocaine. In the meantime, Taylor's family members regret their silence about her drug problem. Bidle says: "Lillian did a lot of good to a lot of people, but she was a fool to herself. Maybe we should have talked to her more about her own problems with drugs. After all, she has ended up dead."
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