The two parties are waging a fierce battle in the contest triggered by the departure of Peter Mandelson. Sir Menzies Campbell has taken the unusual step of writing to Ian McCartney asking for Labour’s “personalised and misguided” attacks to stop.
Sir Menzies said it was unacceptable for Labour to accuse their candidate, Jody Dunn, of “making excuses for junkies” just because, as a barrister, she represented them in court.
He said: “This attack has gone beyond what is reasonable, even in a hard-fought by-election.”
Tom Watson, the Labour MP, who has been acting as the campaign manager in Hartlepool, has accused Ms Dunn of being “soft on drugs” because she represented a heroin addict in court four years ago. “How many other junkies has she made excuses for in court?” said Mr Watson.
That’s a pretty sharp move by Ming the Merciful. Back in September 1999, Ian McCartney’s son Hugh died of a heroin overdose. In 2002 he gave an interview to the Sunday Herald, in which he made the following points:
“My son's death was down to a minuscule amount of heroin,” he says, his hands clasped in his lap. “He had been in jail for a short period - he'd been involved in petty crime to feed his habit. Nobody thought he'd go to jail, but he did. He wasn't prepared for the experience. My son required appropriate medical intervention, not an inappropriate prison sentence.”
“When he walked into prison, he was asked if he'd taken any drugs. He answered honestly and said yes he'd taken a hit of heroin a few hours before. This immediately disbarred him from continuing on his methadone programme. He was left with effectively no medical care.
“He went through physical and mental anguish, unsupported through cold turkey, and being bullied by whoever was distributing drugs in the jail. Hugh was in jail for two months and there were fears he might hurt himself. I've been quite aggressive about our prison culture.
“There was no support system and so when he was released he couldn't get back on a methadone programme and he returned to heroin. By this time, his tolerance to smack was way down. He died just a few days later. It wasn't a prison sentence he got, it was a death sentence. He was just a young man with a problem, not a problem young man. There is no sense to the current system. Going to jail harmed my son and did nothing to address the cause of crime.”
It would be interesting to see what Comrade Tommy and Ian McCartney have to say to each other next time they meet. It would also be interesting to know what Mr McCartney thinks of his colleague’s electoral techniques, should any professional hacks care to ask. Meanwhile, a few questions for our Tommy.
Presumably, Hugh McCartney had some legal representation in court. Should the person who gave him this representation be judged not fit to be an MP because he or she “made excuses for junkies”?
Does he think that Hugh McCartney deserved a jail sentence?
What does he think of the fact that Hugh McCartney's time in jail reduced his tolerance so much that “a tiny amount” of smack killed him? Is this fine by you Tommy? After all, it keeps them off the streets, doesn’t it?