POLICE have issued hundreds of cautions to people in possession of Class A drugs in Worcestershire since 2011.

Officers handed out 445 cautions across the county between January 2011 and March 2018, with 171 issued in Worcester alone.

The figures were released following a Freedom of Information request and cover both possession and possession with intent to supply.

Peter Hitchens, a Mail on Sunday columnist and anti-drugs campaigner, responded to the statistics by claiming that police are not bothered about possession.

But Inspector Tony Garner, head of a West Mercia Police team targeting drug gangs, believes the force's focus should be on dealers not users.

He added: “It’s the drug dealers who wake up each day and choose to trade in the misery of others’ addiction.

“They are the ones who bring weapons, violence and the exploitation of vulnerable adults and children to the streets of Worcester.

“There is no set policy on whether someone is cautioned or charged. Each case needs to be individually considered.

“If for example it’s the first time an individual has been caught with drugs and they acknowledge they have a problem and are seeking help then we have to ask whether it’s in the public interest to put them before a court as opposed to cautioning them.

“There are a number of factors at play here including the decision to take a police officer off the streets for several hours to complete a case file for court.”

Inspector Garner's team is working under the banner of Operation Blade and has been responsible for arresting 66 dealers since September.

However, Mr Hitchens said: "The general attitude towards possession on the part of the police is that they don't bother with it.

"It's now been more than 14 years since police and courts gave up any serious attempt to prosecute possession of drugs.

"This started with cannabis and has now moved on to the so-called harder drugs.

"The public should be under no illusion that this is a grave mistake, the drug trade is kept going by the money put into it by illegal drug abusers.

"The police and courts should enforce the law of England which is that possession of drugs is a serious offence which can lead to a prison sentence."

Mr Hitchens, author of The War We Never Fought: The British Establishment's Surrender to Drugs, added that there have been high-profile cases where individuals, such as Pete Doherty and Hans Rausing, have avoided jail for possession of Class A drugs.

He said he was not surprised by the figures and believes there is a strong correlation between drug abuse and violent crime.

The data released by West Mercia Police shows that Worcestershire officers have issued 232 cautions for possession of cocaine, 83 for heroin, 41 for MDMA and 22 for 'crack' cocaine, since 2011.

In Worcester, officers handed out 76 cautions for cocaine, 34 for heroin, 20 for MDMA and 13 for 'crack' cocaine.

Police also gave out cautions for possession of other Class A drugs and possession with intent to supply.

Anyone with information about suspicious activity in their neighbourhood can ring police on 101 or anonymously call Crime Stoppers on 0800 555111.