Modern approach to crime 'medieval'

April 7, 1995

Crime should be seen and treated as a disease, according to the doctor who found the cure for tuberculosis 40 years ago.

Sir John Crofton, who this week received the City of Edinburgh District Council's medal during the Edinburgh International Science Festival for his contribution to the wellbeing of humanity, said he was horrified by today's mediaeval approach to crime. Since there was a spectrum of crime, this clearly called for a spectrum of responses, and policymakers should draw on the excellent research done by academics.

"There are obviously psychopaths who might have to be put away, but so many of the others could be rehabilitated," Sir John said. He knew of one Scottish project which counselled young men who had already been in prison three times and found that only 18 per cent reoffended, compared to 80 per cent of those who had not had counselling.

Sir John, former professor of respiratory medicine at Edinburgh University, led "Crofton's Crusaders", the team which developed a mix of anti-tuberculosis drugs, eradicating the killer disease in Edinburgh in the 1950s through the BCG vaccine. The results were so astounding that other scientists refused to believe them.

"We were accused of fiddling the figures, and realised the only way to persuade people was if they saw it in their own patients," Sir John said. He encouraged an international study of why the chemotherapy of TB failed. This included the Edinburgh treatment, which was found to be completely successful.

But he warned that Britain could be hit by the current resurgence of the disease. Problems were compounded by HIV, which attacked the cell giving protection against TB, he said.

Annual worldwide funding against TB, to which Britain makes no financial contribution, is only Pounds 9 million, a tenth of what is spent on Aids, which kills far fewer people, said Sir John, and warned that at least Pounds 23 million a year was needed to wipe out TB.

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