Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cannabis death-link report prompts watchdog complaint

Nov 13 2008
by Deborah Rees, Glamorgan Gazette

A SUNDAY EXPRESS report claiming young people in Bridgend died as a result of smoking "skunk" cannabis has prompted a complaint to the press watchdog.

Father-of-four Neil Ellis, who has been running Betws Boys' and Girls' Club for five years, said he had been misquoted in the article and has protested to the Press Complaints Commission.

He told the Gazette: "The reporter asked me questions about the availability of skunk and its potential for causing depression.

"It was general talk about skunk, not specifically about Betws. I assumed he chose me because of my background as a drugs worker. I've talked frequently about these issues, so it was nothing new.

"Millions of words have been written about this and a lot is unproven about cannabis and death but people are starting to find links.

"I don't mind talking about drug and alcohol availability and the social problems they bring but I never discuss individual cases."

Coun Chris Michaelides, of Betws, was angered by the article.

He said: "I've spoken to a few parents who have lost children to suicide and they feel very angry at what's been said so far. I was against bringing it all up again."

But Mr Ellis categorically denied making comments about individuals.

"As leader of Betws Boys' and Girls' Club much of my work involves counselling young people on a wide variety of issues, and ethics and confidentiality is an essential and fundamental requirement for our work," he said.

"Eighteen months ago at the outset of the deluge of media attention these issues attracted, I was instrumental in forming and enforcing strict guidelines for all club members and staff concerning all contact with the media.

"These include prohibiting comments on specific cases and also not speculating on events and causes."

A South Wales Police spokesman said: "It is simply untrue to say that the majority of young people in Bridgend who have recently died suddenly were cannabis users.

"Repeated speculation is very hurtful to the families of those who have died and is not helpful to anyone who may be feeling vulnerable."

The Sunday Express had yet to respond to Mr Ellis' complaint as we went to press.

A spokeswoman for the Press Complaints Commission said one complaint about the article had been received and was being assessed.

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