Drugs on sale to 11-year-olds at schools bus stop in Northern Ireland
Callous drug dealers are targeting children as young as 11 on their way home from school.
And now the principals of four secondary schools in Bangor have come together to deliver a disturbing warning to parents that pupils are being offered drugs for sale.
In a strongly-worded letter sent out yesterday, the head teachers at Bangor Grammar, Bangor Academy, Glenlola Collegiate and St Columbanus told parents that they had received reports some year eight pupils had recently been approached by older boys outside the town's bus station and on Dufferin Avenue.
It is understood that older boys, who were not in school uniform, were trying to sell drugs to the younger children, who started secondary school just three months ago.
In the letter, the principals of the four schools described the incident as "worrying".
The mother of one year eight boy at Bangor Grammar said she was appalled by the contents of the school's letter. She said: "Luckily we live close enough to the school and my son can either walk to school, or I drive him, but it's very alarming to hear of anyone targeting such young children.
"Parents make so much effort to protect their children but we can't be with them all day and for those people who use the station and who are trying to encourage a level of independence within their child, it will no doubt be very unsettling."
The mother of a boy in year eight at St Columbanus, who declined to be named, said: "More needs to be done. My mum was commenting about the amount of kids hanging about the bus station sort of doing nothing. It makes you think."
The schools said that there will now be an increased police presence in the area in a bid to stop incidents like this happening again, but a local MLA pointed out that the bus station was within just yards of the town's main PSNI station.
The letter said that despite the help from police, the schools felt it was important to highlight the issue: "They have given assurances that there will be an increased PSNI presence in this area, but nevertheless we believe that it is our duty to inform parents of the dangers facing our pupils."
The letter also highlighted issues with drugs within schools. It said: "In growing up, most children find themselves up against tough decisions, one of which is standing up to pressure to take drugs and consume alcohol. All four post-primary schools in Bangor are committed to providing a safe environment for personal growth and learning, which is why we are sending you this letter."
The letter ended: "We thank you for your ongoing support and welcome your help in partnership to ensure that our pupils - your children - are protected both in school and in the local area."
Peter Weir, DUP MLA for North Down, said that action needed to be taken by police to protect young people from drug dealers in the area.
"I think this is a very disturbing development but I would commend the principals for acting swiftly on this issue and I think it's better that they've taken this precaution," he said.
"This is literally within 100 yards of the PSNI station and I think the police have got to ensure that there is proper monitoring of the situation.
"I think it's important that the police follow through on their assurances that they will increase their presence in the area."
Green Party MLA for North Down Steven Agnew added: "It's very concerning that young people of this age group are actively being approached. I would be aware of drugs on our streets and some teenage involvement in drug use but this type of drug pushing would be, to my understanding, a new development.
"It would be something that I would be very concerned about."