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The mother of a medical student who died after taking a legal party drug today rejected calls for laws on the sale of “laughing gas” to be tightened across the UK.
Hester Stewart, described by friends as a “beautiful and talented” student, was 21 years old when she was found dead at her home in Brighton in 2009.
The aspiring surgeon had taken the then-legal high GBL, a known party drug, sparking her mother Maryon to lead a seven-year campaign for changes in the law over the sale of legal highs.
After lobbying the Government, the Psychoactive Substances Act was passed last year, which prohibits the sale of numerous popular substances.
But those laws were brought into question on Thursday after the collapse of two cases involving people accused of selling nitrous dioxide – also known as laughing gas – where a judge ruled the substance was exempt.
The Crown Prosecution Service has said it is reviewing the cases, while a drug charity labelled the law “fundamentally flawed”.
But Ms Stewart launched a staunch defence of the law changes she fiercely campaigned for, saying that toughening the laws on more drugs could lead to “sinister” underground trading – despite her daughter’s death.
She told the Standard: “It became clear that young people don’t have a clue. It was really shocking. You never even know what’s in them.
“Some people get harmed, some people die. I know many people that have lost people over this.
“It was something that I clearly felt couldn’t continue, it was something that people needed to understand that children had been duped.”
After setting up the charity the Angelus Foundation, now part of Mentor UK, Ms Stewart was able to successfully campaign for changes in the law.
Over 300 retailers across the United Kingdom have either closed down or are no longer selling psychoactive substances since its introduction, according to the Home Office.
But the cases of two men tried this week for allegedly intending to supply “laughing gas” collapsed as the substance is exempt by law.
Mike Trace, who worked as a controversial “drugs tsar” for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the cases could open up the law to challenges.
But Ms Stewart claimed that although “all hell is breaking loose” with the law, it should not be changed.
She added: “It’s a big debate – do we leave young people with something that they can try? I think if you try to ban everything maybe it goes underground and becomes a bit more sinister.
“We know that young people are always going to try things – that is the very nature of young people.
“If something has a low level of harm – there is a difference.
“This is a crown court situation and it’s not up to me to judge the matters of it. We want to focus on the fact that this huge act as been a success. I’m very proud of that.”
As the founder of the Angelus Foundation, Ms Stewart worked with countless medical experts to highlight the dangers of legal highs since the death of her daughter.
She added: “I gave up seven years of my life to campaign and my pain will never go away and at least I know my work has made a difference.
“It’s so families don’t have that empty chair that we will always have.”
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “These dangerous drugs have already cost far too many lives and the Psychoactive Substances Act is sending out a clear message – this government will take whatever action is necessary to keep our families and communities safe.”
A CPS spokesman said: “The CPS assesses all cases referred by the police, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and if it is in the public interest to pursue. We will consider the outcome of these cases and the potential impact on future prosecutions.”
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