Thursday, 16 December 2010

The late Robert Freeman

I used to know the father of Robert Freeman the man whose murder was reported in the Sentinel with the result of the trial. Two men were found guilty of his death and are currently awaiting sentence; a third was found guilty of manslaughter. This terrible case is compounded by the killing four years earlier of Robert Freeman’s sister Julie. Both deaths were drug related.

I last saw David Freeman, Robert and Julie’s father nearly 40 years ago. We were both pupils at Carmountside High School on the Abbey Hulton estate in Stoke from 1966-71. We were also members of a group of lads " The Birchfield Mob that included David and his brother Robert, the Reeves brother’s, Eric Robinson, "Danny" Kaye, myself and others whose names whose names now elude me.

We used to be activity that might have led to an ASBO now although in reality in did not stretch further than trespassing, apple scrumping, annoying adults and kicking a football around an oval in Eaveswood Road. Typical laddish things. David and I were in the same class and I tended to hang around with him and the others. David was very good with his hands in metalwork and woodwork. He was industrious a good sportsman and from memory thoughtful and quite considered. He could stick up for himself.

The Freeman family were like many others on the Abbey Hulton estate. Hard working, companionable, family centred. This was the Abbey Hulton that I knew in the years before DC- Drugs came.

I can probably date when hard drugs made its first appearance on the streets of Abbey Hulton. I was working on the Abbey as an Education Welfare Officer in late 1981. The first heroin -related death was of a young man named Harvey who was found dead in a shed. He probably died of hypothermia as temperatures that winter were frequently below zero.

I think heroin appearing on the streets and the massive growth of unemployment during 1980-1 is no coincidence. You destroy a set pattern of how people are expected to lead their lives on a council estate like Abbey Hulton or Chell Heath or Bentilee or anywhere else and something came to occupy that vacuum. We have been playing the price ever since.

The irony is that areas like Abbey Hulton were quite socially conservative areas and my peers at High School were very disdainful of the drug culture in the early 70s. I bought a copy of a Stones album into the 5th year common room once and some made dismissive comments about Mick Jagger's cannabis habits.

All that began to change scarcely a decade later and drugs have wrecked havoc destroying lives and undermining communities ever since.

I witnessed the desolation that that involvement in drugs can cause on Wednesday 6th September 2000.

I remember the date very well. I was working in Tameside for the mental health organisation Mind and in the late morning a youth called at the office to say that there was something wrong with his friend who lived opposite the offices in Ashton
Another worker and I went over the road and entered a very run down flat. On the stairs there was rubble and in a first floor room we found his friend slumped on a settee.

The TV was on and a can of beer on a small table beside him. The man was dead, very grey and purple in the face. A small syringe was sticking in the back of his right hand.

On the walls of the decaying room were an England Football scarf, a poster of the film "Trainspotting" and pictures of the dead man whose name was Terry McGuire and a small child, his daughter.

McGuire was in his late 30s. Evidently McGuire who had been out of Strangeways Prison a few months. He had died from a toxic batch of heroin that had killed many users in the North West that autumn.
It seems that the dealers mix the heroin with all sorts of rubbish including brick dust.

Currently we have a situation where it is the dealer who chooses price, purity, cutting agents as well as business location and operating hours. And these dealers certainly are not asking minors for ID, nor are they encouraging their customers to moderate or abstain from drug use.

Sooner or later national politician will have to grasp the nettle of decriminalisation and legalising drugs. I'm of the opinion like former Labour minister Bob Ainsworth drug addiction is a public health issue rather than a criminal one. Mr Ainsworth deserves credit for starting that debate. Because unless we realise that we need a new strategy to tackle drugs fundamentally decent families like the Freeman’s will continually be burying their children