Staff

Management

Niamh Eastwood
Executive Director
020 7324 2980

Niamh is Executive Director of Release. She started at Release in 2002 as a legal advisor. She has extensive experience of service delivery, policy strategy, fundraising and operational development. Having worked in drug policy for the last fifteen years Niamh is passionate about drug policy reform and believes that the most vulnerable in society are disproportionately impacted upon by the current drug laws.

Niamh has co-authored Release's recent policy papers 'The Colour of Injustice: 'Race', Drugs and Law Enforcement in England and Wales' and ‘A Quiet Revolution: Drug Decriminalisation Policies in Practice Across the Globe’. She has also co-authored and edited a number of Release's advice booklets including  ‘Drugs and the Law’ and ‘Sex Workers and the Law’, she regularly contributes to drug policy journals and publications. Niamh is also responsible for drafting many of Release's briefings for parliamentarians and policy makers. She has presented at international and national conferences and is regularly invited to comment in the media.

Niamh is an Associate of The London School of Economics IDEAS International Drug Policy Project, a member of the Expert Steering Group for the Global Drug Survey and is a visiting lecturer at the Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University. She is also a committee member for DrugScience and has been a technical advisor to the Global Commission on Drug Policy

Kirstie Douse
Head of Legal Services
020 7324 2982

Kirstie was appointed Head of Legal Services in January 2012, having joined Release as a solicitor in 2008.

Before joining Release Kirstie practiced as a solicitor specialising in criminal defence. Having become disillusioned with the way drug users are dealt with in the criminal justice system, Kirstie joined Release with a view to tackling the problems at an earlier stage in proceedings by challenging policy and procedure. 

In addition to managing the Legal Team, Kirstie continues to advise clients at Release's legal surgeries and via the legal helpline.  She has become increasingly involved in the organisation’s policy and campaign work, and is passionate about tackling the stigma faced by people who use drugs. Kirstie provides comment in the media on legal and policy issues relating to drugs, and has also presented at national and international conferences.

Keith Edwards
Finance & Operations Manager
020 7324 2979

Keith does all the financial stuff for the organisation, as well as all of the office recycling - generally because no one else is willing to do it. He also provides operational support and the evaluation reports for the services we provide.

Legal

Stephen Cutter
Solicitor
020 7324 2991

Stephen is a Justice First Fellow who joined Release as a Trainee Solicitor in 2017. During his training he completed a secondment in criminal defence. Shortly after qualifying he undertook a legal role focussed on reducing the impact of poverty on children in London. He returned to Release in 2020 to lead our work on helping the homeless population during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Stephen has a particular interest in providing holistic legal advice in partnership with other organisations. He has undertaken community outreach work at drug and alcohol services, foodbanks and support services for the homeless population. In providing a range of legal services at these locations he hopes to reduce the disproportionate impact of current policies on marginalised communities.

Prior to training as a Solicitor Stephen was employed by BPP University. There he managed the Legal Advice Clinic, which provides free advice to members of the public in housing and family law, and other projects run by the Pro Bono Centre.

Winnie Schmidt
Solicitor
020 7324 2981

Winnie first joined Release as a legal volunteer in the summer of 2017 and became a trainee solicitor through the Justice First Fellowship in January 2019. She has a passion for working directly with vulnerable communities; over her time with Release she has gained experience in welfare benefits, housing, and debt law. 

Born in the USA and raised in the UK, Winnie earned a BA in Sociology from Reed College, Oregon, USA. She moved back to London in 2011 and started work in the PR industry, first for Brixton Market Traders Federation CIC, and then moving into music PR. She developed a keen interest for law and studied at the University of Law in London, where she earned a distinction on her Legal Practice Course.

She looks forward to continuing work toward increasing access to justice and pursuing a career in social welfare law. In her spare time she enjoys listening to podcasts, learning languages, and producing music. 

Amelia Freeman
Trainee Solicitor
020 7324 2984

Amelia completed her GDL and LPC at BPP University after undertaking an undergraduate degree in Politics at Newcastle University. She has a long-standing interest in helping vulnerable people assert their rights, initially focusing this interest on developing education in rural communities in Nepal and India, working for the British Council in India. After leaving India Amelia developed an interest in law and started the GDL in 2017.

Prior to joining Release Amelia was a volunteer in the Islington Law Centre Immigration Unit and North Kensington Law Centre Housing Clinic. She was also student director of Streetlaw: Employment Tribunals, delivering workshops to individuals facing employment tribunals as litigants in person. Outside of work Amelia plays in a netball league, enjoys yoga and has recently been learning how to surf.

Liam Carmody
Solicitor
0207 324 2986

Liam joined Release as a Solicitor in November 2019 after working as a Senior Immigration Caseworker at Duncan Lewis Solicitors where he also completed his training contract. Prior to this Liam volunteered at Hackney Community Law Centre and Bail for Immigration Detainees. As a Senior Immigration Caseworker Liam had experience of representing some of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups through the complex and demanding immigration detention and asylum process.

At Release Liam is eager to continue working to bring access to justice for those that need it most.

Drugs

Claire Robbins
Nurse Advocate & Drugs Advisor
020 7324 2972

Claire re-joined Release on the drugs helpline in 2015, having previously worked with us in the 1990s as a helpline advisor, and with the Dance Outreach Project, providing health and welfare advice at dance events and festivals.

Claire is a qualified physical health and mental health nurse, with a masters in Evidence Based Drug Policy, and has consistently worked in drug treatment services since the early 1980’s. She can support a variety of callers to the helpline, including people who use drugs, their families, friends, and professionals. She can also provide nurse-led advocacy for people who are experiencing difficulties with their drug treatment provision.

Gary Sutton
Head of Drugs Services (2000 - 2020)

With deep sadness we mourn the loss of Gary Sutton, Release’s Head of Drug Services who passed away on the 5th September 2020. We are heartbroken for his family, Monique, Katie and Emily, whom he loved so very much.

Gary was the soul of Release and had been with the organisation for 20 years. He was an intelligent, funny, kind, compassionate and exceptional human being who was highly respected as an expert witness and counsellor and would always go beyond what was required to support his clients.

There aren’t the words right now to do justice to Gary’s legacy. The world is a darker place without him. We will try in the future, but for now all we can say is how much he will be missed by his colleagues, clients and friends.

We love you, Gaz.

___

Gary had over 20 years of experience working in the field of substance dependence including counselling (MSc in Therapeutic Counselling), outreach work and formerly managing the largest needle exchange project in London. With his unparalleled experience and knowledge of drugs many committees and working groups had requested his contribution, and he had held advisory positions with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the National Treatment Agency (NTA), the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and Parliamentary advisory forums. In addition, Gary had provided training for members of the RGCP, and had delivered lectures for the MSc in Addiction Studies at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London. Gary had authored a number of informative and educational publications including heroin treatment and dependence, and cannabis, and had presented on numerous drug related topics at national and international conferences. Additionally, Gary had provided over 200 expert reports in civil, criminal, medical and military drug cases, as well as testimony. He also delivered a weekly counselling service in a clinical environment in West London to individuals and groups alike including drug and alcohol matters.  Gary had professional memberships with the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists, Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals, and the Expert Witness Institute.

Administration

Imani Robinson
Communications Strategist & Editor of TalkingDrugs
020 7324 2978

Imani is an interdisciplinary writer and artist committed to political education and abolitionist organising. They are the comms strategist at Release and the editor of TalkingDrugs.org, a multilingual platform for news and analysis on drug use, policy, harm reduction and related issues across the world. Their recent chapter, 'Towards an Abolitionist Drug Policy Reform', appears in The Impact of Global Drug Policy on Women: Shifting the Needle, Emerald Publishing, and is available via open access. Imani was a plenary speaker at HR19 in Porto, Portugal and in 2018 co-produced REGENERATE, a black-led arts festival on the intersections of drug policy, racial justice and liberation alongside Camille Barton. Imani holds an MA in Forensic Architecture from Goldsmiths, University of London and a BA in International Relations & Anthropology from the University of Sussex.

Jesse Bernard
Y-Stop (Youth) Lead
020 7324 2998

Jesse is a writer, researcher and workshop facilitator whose work focuses on Black music in Britain and how it intersects with social and political issues. He is deeply passionate about working with young people through empowerment and advocates for the decriminalization of youth-led music such as UK rap, grime and drill. In 2019, he appeared on BBC 1Xtra Talks to advocate for drug policy reform and the impact of drugs on the music industry.

 

Laura Garius
Policy Lead
020 7324 2997

Dr. Laura Garius joined Release as policy lead in Autumn, 2020. She is a criminologist and obtained her doctorate from Loughborough University. Laura delivered the Drugs and Society module to students at Nottingham Trent University and has researched both alcohol and drug-related harm. She has conducted research with service users as well as with large scale surveys and advocates for harm-reduction approaches, evidence-based drug policy, and social justice.

André Belchior Gomes
Content & Social Media Coordinator

André joined Release in August 2021 after having previously volunteered for the organisation a few years before. He is responsible for producing content for TalkingDrugs, managing social media and helping coordinate the work of the many wonderful contributing volunteers.

André also works with drug harm reduction groups, engaging in policy analysis and developing their communications strategies. Before joining Release he had worked in health policy. André has a MSc in Political Communications from the London School of Economics, having researched the communication strategies used by drug policy reform organisations to influence public opinion.