THE stink is what hits you first, and hits you hardest when you walk into the crack house at 8 Yelverton Close in Ernesettle, a suburb of Plymouth.
You might be able to persuade yourself that the syringes and needles that litter the house are in some strange way part of the romance of being a smackhead.
You might turn a blind eye to the unframed photo of a chubby little girl, propped on a ledge. She’s someone’s daughter, and her image here speaks of lives wasted and families fractured.
You might feel a momentary revulsion when local police beat manger PC Dan Pen-Collings points out a brown-smeared heroin wrapper and says: “Mind you don’t touch that. The brown could be heroin … or it might be from where he’s stuffed it up his arse to hide it.”
Heroin addict Michael Sproson and his friends lived here until the house was boarded up yesterday on the orders of the court.
There’s a spray of encrusted blood up the filthy wall from where an addict wrapped a tournique around his arm and then plunged in a needle. Perhaps even that has a kind of macabre drama for youngsters in a particular frame of mind.
But the stench just makes you gag.
There’s nothing to secretly admire in the smell. It eradicts all the romance built up by turned-on and tuned-out writers like Jack Kerouac (On the Road) and the mescal dreams of Carlos Castenada.
The stink of unwashed bodies explains why the bathroom appears so little used.
The stench of vomit and alcohol and stale smoke permeates walls and carpets that haven’t been cleaned since God only knows when.
Sproson’s filthy, unloved dog – a bewildered little shiatsu – trots about confused. Neighbours say Sproson used to just push it out the front door to crap on the communal grass. From the smell, you’d guess he often wasn’t in a state to remember to do even that.
If only they could preserve this house and its fetid air as a kind of museum for teenagers to see and – most importantly – to smell.
But, as the saintly among us might say: hate the sin, love the sinner.
No matter how bad the Hell that Sproson created for his neighbours, you would not want to inhabit the Hell he created for himself.
We’ve had decades of the so-called War on Drugs, and all it does is to make traffickers rich and society poor. Addicts live worthlessly, and when they die eventually all they leave behind is a small stain on the earth – and a bad smell.
Where’s the politician with the courage to step up and point out that we’re not winning the “war”. We need a new solution – which may be legalisation and state control, or it may not.
As it is, the hundreds of millions of pounds we’re spending to fight drugs is only driving up the street price and giving traffickers an incentive to enslave people like Michael Sproson.
Police and Plymouth City Council’s anti-social behaviour unit have closed down more than 25 crack houses in the city since 2004.
The relief for neighbours is considerable, but closing a crack house doesn’t miraculously cure its inhabitants.
Vital as this work is, it only amounts to a kind of misery tax, sharing the pain across the community as people like Sproson are pushed on to new and equally sordid dens somewhere else.
An edited version of this article appeared in The Herald on September 11, 2009
Note: In January 2010 I learned that Sproson had died alone in Brighton. No one knew where to find his family.