Belfast Telegraph

Drug binge turned Hardwell concert 'into a war zone'

Call for an Executive probe into Odyssey rave anarchy

By Adrian Rutherford

Children as young as 14 were left violently ill after binging on alcohol and class A drugs as a sell-out Belfast gig descended into chaos.

Eighteen concert-goers were taken to hospital and dozens more needed medical treatment inside and outside the Odyssey Arena, where Dutch artist DJ Hardwell was playing to a crowd of 10,000 on Thursday night.

People described how they were confronted by scenes of horror in the aftermath of the gig, with some comparing the scene to a war zone.

One parent described seeing children with their mouths foaming and trying to jump in the River Lagan.

"I saw kids lying on the floor foaming at the mouth. And you're not talking 18 or 19-year-olds, you're talking 16-year-olds, even 14-year-olds," said Denise Lampard, whose 16-year-old daughter was in the audience.

"There were kids outside with sweat lashing off them.

"Some were even trying to get in the water to cool down. It was appalling."

Last night a DJ Hardwell gig scheduled for Scotland was cancelled because of safety concerns following the events in Belfast.

As the full extent of the chaos emerged, organisers were facing angry demands to explain how the event had gone so badly wrong.

The calls came as:

Charity workers told how children were left so ill that they could not speak and their eyes were rolling into the backs of their heads.

Teenagers admitted taking drugs including heroin, ecstasy and legal highs.

Footage emerged of bare-chested men trading punches at gig.

108 young people were treated inside and outside the venue.

Police said 300 young people were refused entry because they were either drunk or underage.

Politicians called for a Stormont investigation into what went wrong.

DJ Hardwell's team said they were unaware of the chaos which unfolded.

Emergency services began arriving at the scene at around 7.30pm on Thursday – an hour before the gig was due to begin.

As the situation outside the Odyssey deteriorated, medics, ambulance crews and charity volunteers tended to dozens of young people.

A Major Incident was declared by the Ambulance Service and in the city's hospitals, where extra staff were called in to help.

Paramedics treated 40 people outside the Odyssey, while another 68 individuals received aid from the private medical team inside the complex.

The Ambulance Service said it dealt with casualties "at varying levels of consciousness".

Nine people remained in hospital yesterday where their conditions were described as stable.

Charity worker Joe Hyland, who runs the SOS Bus NI voluntary service, said some of the children claimed they had taken heroin and ecstasy.

"There were a couple who did say they were taking heroin, they are young and they know themselves they are in trouble so they'll tell you what they have been taking," he said.

Ulster Unionist MLA Michael McGimpsey – a former Health Minister – said he was deeply concerned by Thursday night's episode, and questioned how a concert turned into something like "a war zone".

"Serious questions need to be asked of the Odyssey Trust, who manage the venue, and I call on the (Culture) minister Carál Ní Chuilín to carry out an urgent investigation into the incident and report back to the Assembly," he said.

PSNI chief inspector Mark McEwan said around 300 young people were showing signs of intoxication or were too young for the over-16s event.

Odyssey Arena general manager Adrian Doyle said a thorough pre-event planning meeting was held with representatives from Belfast City Council and agencies such as the police.

Mr Doyle said searches were carried out on the door by security teams with two PSNI sniffer dog teams deployed.

Stringent ID checks were also in place for those buying alcohol, sales of which was halted in the venue at 9pm.

'There were people vomiting and passing out'... eyewitnesses describe shocking scenes

Denise Lampard

Her 16-year-old daughter was at the concert

"I was inside the Odyssey trying to get my child out and there were kids lying on the floor off their head on drugs.

"I was able to get past security along with a few other mothers and I have never witnessed anything like it in my life – it was horrendous.

"I saw kids lying on the floor foaming at the mouth. And you're not talking 18 or 19-year-olds, you're talking 16-year-olds, even 14-year-olds.

"How they did not stop that concert is beyond me. And how security did not see the drugs and everything else that was going on – my daughter was offered Es for nothing.

"At one point I was standing over bodies, literally having to walk over bodies, and I was just thinking 'is my daughter lying in there like this?'

"There were kids outside with sweat lashing off them. Some were even trying to get in the water (River Lagan) to cool down. It was appalling."

Reece Dempster

A 16-year-old who attended the concert

"I arrived there around 5.30pm to 6pm and I got in and the queue was massive, so I decided to sit in the Odyssey for a bit. I walked back out and queued up and by that time there was people drinking outside; there was already people throwing up.

"By the time I got in there was people throwing up actually inside, all over the floor, people passed out and there were fights left, right and centre – it was mad.

"There was a variety of ages, I'd say between 14 to late 20s.

"The security was good but it eventually just got out of hand. They were doing so well, ID-ing everyone, but they just couldn't handle it any more."

Scott McBride

Witnessed the chaos unfold at the Odyssey

"I arrived at the Odyssey at about five past or 10 past seven. I was bringing three of my friends down.

"Everywhere you looked you were guaranteed to find someone who was ill or on their way to being ill. One of the guys was sitting in his own vomit trying to keep his eyes straight, on his backside against the wall. It was obviously not a good state to be in."

Carl

A 16-year-old who attended the gig

"I saw boys fighting and I saw boys who were all over the place. I saw one fight and there was blood on people's faces. I just didn't know what to do so I just left them to the bouncers.

"I became frightened when my family started texting and asking did I see the news and asking what was going on."

Louise McCord

Mother of 16-year-old Shay, who was at the gig

"Shay said he was totally oblivious to everything that was was going on. He didn't know anything until he came out about 11.15pm and got into the taxi and the driver told him and his friends.

"Shay did see a lot of ambulances and was aware there was a lot of police being about but saw nothing outside, and they were in the area from about 6.15pm. They were asked for ID before they were allowed in and the boys showed their passports.

"He had an absolute ball, never mind that we spent an hour-and-a-half panicking."

Ballyclare father

His 17-year-old son was among the concert-goers

"Once we saw the news my wife and I headed straight down to the Odyssey.

"The whole length of that road there were hundreds and hundreds of visibly underage kids, you could see they were completely underage.

"Young girls crying, young lads running about the place with blood running down their faces. There were ambulance sirens and police sirens just blasting everywhere.

"What I witnessed last night was horrendous, never seen anything like it in my life, with kids lying in the pathways, the grass, the roads; they didn't know where they were.

"I think it's blatantly obvious that there were drugs in the place. My son saw two lads coming out of a toilet cubicle and he and his girlfriend witnessed a guy dancing on top of a box or a speaker and just fell over. His face smashed into the speaker on the way down; they say that the blood just gushed out of him."

Hospital visitor

Man who was visiting his wife in the RVH

"I was visiting my wife in the neuro ward when a couple of the nurses came in and said that they were being brought down to A&E to deal with the influx with patients expected to come in from the Odyssey.

"We heard that there were a couple of youngsters who had got a bit of hiding and the others were in relations to drink and drugs. As far as I was aware other doctors were meant to be coming down to A&E to help out as well.

"After I was home I learnt that as the high dependency unit was going to be filled, they were thinking that some would have to be brought to the neuro ward, being the next level of seriousness down in triage terms, that's those bordering on high dependency, possibly being brought into the neuro ward.

"I don't know if there were actually patients brought into the neuro ward."

John

Eyewitness to the mayhem

"I made the unfortunate choice of going past the Odyssey around 6.40pm. About halfway down the Sydenham Road I saw five or six 'party bus' coaches and minibuses with kids that were literally bouncing down the road, shouting, singing and jumping out in front of cars on the road.

"Many of them had alcohol and were openly drinking it going down the road – most did not look much older than 14 or 15.

"Young girls were flashing their underwear whilst walking, or in many cases staggering, down the road – in some cases deliberately to get occupants of cars to beep at them.

"Boys were shoving each other off the road; one guy landed right on the kerb's edge narrowly avoided by a taxi. He was swiftly pulled up by the same people who shoved him down."

Pete Loughins

SOS Bus volunteer at the Odyssey

"I have no doubt that lives could have been lost if we hadn't been there. The pressure was probably at its worse between 7pm and 9.30pm as the youngsters arrived and then weren't getting in.

"If some of their friends had set them against the wall and just walked off and left them, the young people would have been in serious, serious trouble.

"When we could get contact numbers we phoned parents directly and they came, but some of them were so drunk that they had lost their phones, lost their wallets, they had no ID.

"One of the young guys I dealt with, I still don't know his name, nobody could get any response from him.

"The vast majority of parents were very shocked; they didn't realise that their children were going to take alcohol.

"I'm a father of three daughters myself. Once they are away from you and under the influence, then comes the peer pressure. If they're not used to drink and haven't eaten, then it goes straight into their system.

"On the bus, we treated over 60 young people at one time."

Compiled by Joanne Sweeney and Adrian Rutherford

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