The Greater Manchester Police is threatening to prosecute Lifeline, the controversial drugs charity, if it goes ahead with plans to hand out drug paraphernalia to homeless heroin users in Manchester.
Police have told the charity it will be prosecuted for intent to supply under Section 9 of the misuse of drugs act.
Lifeline has promised to fight back, saying the campaign is important in combating health problems associated with drug use such as Hepatitis B. It is being supported by other drugs charities, which are fearful that if the prosecution succeeds, it will endanger other projects such as needle banks.
"The action being threatened by the Manchester Police is ludicrous and we will not be bullied,
said Michael Linnell, Lifeline's director of communications. "This section of the Act is due to be amended next autumn, and the police are bowing to pressure from anti-drug groups that would prefer to ignore the fact that there is a serious problem that must be addressed."
Linnell claims that the police are invoking a law that is largely ignored by many police authorities which turn a blind eye to needle banks and the distribution of other drugs apparatus including sterile water and citric acid.
The Lifeline campaign, which was due to start this month, goes a step further in combining apparatus in one box, including tourniquets, needles and matches. It would have been available to people visiting one of Lifeline's needle banks and is part of a drive to teach clean and safe injection methods to homeless drug users with reading difficulties.
The project is run by Lifeline's publications department, which is wholly funded by the sale of drug education and awareness publications largely to other non-profit organisations.
Linnell fears the police action will intimidate other charities into feeling unable to run similar campaigns for fear of losing public funding and government support.
"Organisations like Lifeline are having to put themselves on the wrong side of the law to fight against issues such as the rise of Hepatitis B and dangerous misuse of drugs,
said Kevin Flemen, acting director at Release.