Saturday, February 10, 2007

A tribute to Eddie Ellison

It was with great sadness we learnt that Eddie Ellison, a long time friend and Patron of Transform, had lost his battle with cancer on January 29th this year.

Our relationship with Eddie goes all the way back to the early days of Transform. He was one of our first supporters, becoming a powerful advocate for the organisation and for the cause of drug policy and law reform, his distinguished background in drug enforcement lending great credibility to both.

Eddie’s 30 years in the police, 23 of them in drug enforcement, gave him arguably more experience in the field than any other British detective. From his early days in the 70’s working to prevent drug smuggling with H M Customs at Heathrow airport, and combating major drug supply networks in London, he progressed to the rank of Detective Chief Inspector becoming operational commander of the Scotland Yard Central Drugs Squad, during which time he was awarded the UK Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He later went on, as Detective Chief Superintendent, to head the Crime Policy Group of Specialist Operations Department, worked with the Association of Chief Police Officers review teams that restructured the Regional Crime Squads and Drug Wings and worked with the team that justified and created the National Criminal Intelligence Service. He was a police legend.

It is typical of his disarming honesty and sense of humour that in the biography on his website he noted:

“I should also admit being the detective who didn’t bring the Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs, back from Barbados, led the first London covert operation where the bad guys stole a large sum of money from the police (yes, I did get it back but it was a long twenty minutes!) and got disqualified for jointly entering a cannabis plant in the Scotland Yard Horticultural Society Show, category ‘Single Pot Plant’ - the judge insisted it was a vegetable!”

It was during his time working in drug enforcement that he, in his own words:

‘recognised the futility of relying solely on prohibition to lessen the effects of drug abuse on the community’.

Unlike many of his fellow police who shared his concerns, he had the courage to speak out against the system whilst still a serving officer, defending the organisation Release as far back as 1974 (he later became a trustee), and calling for the legalisation of cannabis in 1985.

When he retired in 1993 he became much more active in campaigning for drug law reform, bringing his wealth of experience to bear on the debate with an eloquence and authority it had not witnessed until then. He was undoubtedly a pioneer, going where others feared to tread. In doing so he prepared the ground for other reforming senior police that came after him, including Francis Wilkinson (former Chief Constable of Gwent), and Richard Brunstrom (serving Chief Constable of North Wales).

His campaigning blazed a trail that included groundbreaking opinion pieces in the Telegraph (Legalise Drugs Now: it’s the only answer 1993), the Daily Mail (I’m determined my children won’t get hooked – legalise 1998), the Independent (Law motivates criminal activity 1994), and the Guardian (Don’t be such a dope Mr Howard 1994), amongst countless others. He was also a regular fixture in broadcast media with appearances on programmes ranging from Kilroy, to Panorama, Newsnight, and Radio 4’s the Today programme (a more complete list here) . His brilliant insight and informed analysis undoubtedly helped persuade many key figures of the futility of prohibition and the need for reform, also contributing considerably to the evolution of Transform’s message over the years.

Eddie would often turn up unannounced at the Transform office ‘for a quick chat’ because he was ‘just passing through’, before staying for hours (occasionally all day) discussing politics and the intricacies of drug policy reform, and regaling us with astonishing stories from his time in the police.

As a loving father of two children he was always adamant that reform of the drug laws was essential to protect young people, and was always keen to restate his status as resolutely anti-drugs. He showed very clearly how a compassionate view towards problem drug users and a desire to reduce drug misuse and harm to wider society to the lowest possible level was entirely compatible with a pragmatic position on the failure of prohibition and the need for regulatory alternatives to be explored.

"Each and every police officer has their own ranking of the relative seriousness of all criminal offences that is often based on their background experiences. However hard they try, their attitudes and behaviour are often affected by that assessment. I have never, and can never, see the drug user as a 'criminal'. I see them as, amongst other descriptions, a rebellious youth, a risk taking idiot, a seeker of relief, a lobbyist for independent thought and freedom, someone in need of guidance and help or a very real exasperation to parents and friends. But in as much as the drug use is concerned, not a criminal and therefore the criminal law cannot be the appropriate weapon to counter or deter a choice of use."

The last time I saw him was at the Summer 2006 Release ‘Drugs University’ conference where he was running a stall for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, (I was running one for Transform). LEAP is made up of 1000s of current and former law enforcement and criminal justice proffessionals who are speaking out about the failures of our existing drug policies. Eddie sat on the advisory board of LEAP, and ran the UK section of this exciting new world-wide campaigning organisation, founded in 2002. He was handing out leaflets, debating, cajoling, and persuading; campaigning with as much enthusiasm and passion as ever, right up until the end of his life.

Eddie, we’ll miss you

Steve, Danny, and the Transform team.

We will be re-publishing a series of Eddie's interviews and articles on the blog over the next few weeks.


Anonymous said...

In his own words: Eddie Ellison speaking at the 2001 LCA conference

Anonymous said...

Without Eddie's support and encouragement the Cannabis Assembly would not exist. My deepest sympathies go to his family. His death is a tragic loss.

Rev. Paul Farnhill
co-founder, Cannabis Assembly

Anonymous said...

Eddie was a total inspiration, to all the campaign, and spoke sense from the view, he will be greatly missed.

Winston Matthews LCA.

Anonymous said...

I am so sad to hear of Eddies death, he was a great man and will be missed by all.

Not only was I privilaged to have known him, the world was privilaged to have him as a member of society.

RIP Eddie

Blair Anderson said...

I had the pleasure of driving all over the North Island of New Zealand with Eddie, travelling from Rotary to Lions to Community meetings and media interviews drawn together sometimes in haste others well planned. Eddie was always prepared, the consummate observer of the human condition, his affiable nature disguised research and experience that was disarming such was his dedication to 'the craft' of delivery of key argument. Always relevant to his audience he was applauded everywhere he spoke. One old timer at the Hutt Valley Rotary approached me after one of Eddie's deliveries and said.. I've been a Rotarian for more than 50 years and that was the best speech I have ever heard; he changed my view on drugs.
Eddie wanted to come back to New Zealand's South Island for a fishing holiday and to bring with his wife here (and maybe have a chat or two). My next trout is for you Eddie!

(Sorry about the sand-flies mate!)

Blair & Natalie

Anonymous said...

This news was a big shock to me, and I hope his family is coping as well as possible with their very sad loss.
In terms of CLR his shoes will be hard to fill because - through his engaging personality and formidable experience - he was so unique.
He certainly left large and very welcome footprints on NZ when he visited here a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all so much for your thoughts about my wonderful husband, Eddie. What an amazing tribute to his life. Needless to say, my children and I are heartbroken that Eddie has gone but the emails, cards and letters we have received telling us how he touched (and changed) many people's lives has helped enormously. It was particularly poignant to read Natalie and Blair's comments as we had just returned from a holiday in New Zealand when we got the news that Eddie's cancer had come back. He tried to get in touch with you before our trip, but somehow his email did not get to you. We loved your island, and had many happy adventures in Queenstown (white water rafting, quad biking and your brilliant luge at the top of the gondola). It doesn't seem possible that that was only 12 weeks ago. He had such a zest for life, an interest in everyone, and a desire to make the world a better place. He was irreplaceable and we shall miss him so much.
Maggie Ellison

Anonymous said...

Like Blair, I had the pleasure of meeting Eddie on his speaking tour of New Zealand. It was a shock to hear of his passing and I am thrilled to hear that Eddie made it back to enjoy our shores again. Eddie was a man of intellect and humanity, and although I knew him only briefly he made a lasting impression. R.I.P.

Anonymous said...

RIP Eddie

You were one in a million!