DRCNetDrug Reform Coordination Network


In Memoriam: Bing Spear

Bing Spear: The Passing of A Legend

by Arnold Trebach President, Drug Policy Foundation

By now many of you have heard the sad news of the death of H.B. Spear. He died on July 9th at the age of 67. I wanted to make sure you did know of his passing, to relate a bit of his wonderful story, and to ask help in keeping alive the ideas he lived for.

For over a quarter century Bing Spear was the compassionate heart and soul of British drug control policy. He was an Inspector in the Drugs Branch of the Home Office and eventually rose to the rank of Chief Inspector, a post from which he retired in 1986. During my many visits to his office, my meanderings amongst the drug scenes of England, and in the course of lectures he made to my seminars in England, I saw that he believed in drug control with a sense of humanity and compassion. He was my mentor and my inspiration for writing about drugs in the United Kingdom.

As the top British national official expert on drug control, he served as a kindly and intelligent bridge between front line police and street addicts. Indeed, all came to him for advice. It was a startling vision for my American eyes to see the good friends he brought to several of my London seminars: long-time injecting heroin addicts. For a time Bing knew most of the established drug addicts in the London area.

It would be a sign from heaven if using addicts believed that they could go to the head of DEA or FDA to get friendly advice -- and even the name of a doctor who might prescribe injectable drugs to maintain their addictions within the law. (See the postscript for more on this subject.)

We at The Drug Policy Foundation established an award in his name in 1988. The H.B. Spear Award for Achievement in the Field of Control and Enforcement honors "all those involved in drug control and enforcement whose activities have demonstrated a balanced regard for the needs of enforcement and also of the requirement for human compassion." When I wrote him of our decision to set up the award and asked him for his permission, he replied with characteristic modesty that he really did not deserve such recognition, that all he had been doing was "keeping my bureaucratic nose clean for 34 years." He added, "I have merely been the custodian of the Rolleston tradition." All of us are better off because of the work of this mere custodian.

Expressions of sympathy may be addressed to his family at 1, Whiterock Terrace, Wadebridge, Cornwall, PL27 7EG, UK. Bing suffered from kidney disease. His son, Jonathan, mentioned that he would be pleased if those so inclined made a donation in his honor to a local or national kidney foundation.

During the next few weeks, I intend to write a longer appreciation of this wonderful human being and good friend. I intend to emphasize one of his favorite themes: how American experts and officials constantly have distorted the manner in which the British system of drug control and treatment works. I would appreciate hearing from anyone with such information and also with anecdotes on Bing's work and life.

Send them to my Compuserve address -- 102143,2571 -- or by snail mail to DPF, Suite B-500, 4455 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008-2302.

Thanks so much,

Arnold Trebach

P.S. I personally saw that the following description of Bing was quite accurate. It is a quote from page 27 of the classic book by Horace Freeland Judson, "Heroin Addiction in Britain: What Americans Can Learn from the English Experience," Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: New York and London, 1973, 1974.

- end -

[Note: DRCNet is receiving funding and office space from the Drug Policy Foundation, but is a separate organization. DRCNet postings in general should not be taken as indicative of DPF policy.]

If you like what you see here and want to get these bulletins by e-mail, please fill out our quick signup form at http://www.drcnet.org/signup.html.

Click to sign up now

Return to Rapid-Response-Team Chronological Listing

Drug Reform Coordination Network