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Ecstasy victim's parents unveil powerful public artwork as part of drugs crusade

By Brett Campbell

Two grieving parents have unveiled a billboard dedicated to their son who died after taking just one ecstasy tablet.

William Burns (49) was holding the ashes of his son Jamie in a small cardboard box as he reiterated his warning that "one pill will kill".

The junction at the corner of Twaddell Avenue and Crumlin Road was chosen as the place to display the large artwork, which was launched by TV and radio personality Frank Mitchell

"This is hopefully the first of many billboards," Mr Burns told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We chose this location in an attempt to bring people together, and both sides were happy to be part of this project. We all need to come together to fight against this, it's destroying our communities."

Jamie was 23 when he collapsed in the Students' Union at Queen's University on November 19 last year.

His mum Lesley (49) said he had gone out to meet friends that Saturday evening.

"Jamie worked full-time and Saturday was his wee night out, just like everyone else," she explained. "He swallowed one pill and returned home four days later in a coffin."

In the early hours of the Sunday morning his parents said they received "the dreaded knock on the door" when police informed them that their son had been in an incident. Distraught, they rushed to the hospital but were soon told that nothing could be done.

"I'm not a religious person, but I sat and prayed to every god that there is in that room," Mr Burns said.

"Everything went in slow motion - you are hearing someone say your son is dead, but you can't believe it."

He has spent the last few months speaking in schools and to community groups, and has even visited kids at home to recount his harrowing story.

He tells it in graphic detail in an effort to help people realise the risks of taking drugs, and always starts by recalling the scene of his dead son lying on a cold metal trolley.

"He had his shirt ripped open, he had his eyes taped shut, he had wires in his arms and tubes in his mouth," he added. "His right hand side was completely covered in blood."

He also recalls the "screams" of his eldest daughter Gemma (26) when he told her she had lost her brother.

"It will haunt me until the day I die," he said.

He regularly places Jamie's ashes - contained in a bag inside a small box - into people's hands before he tells them: "My son was six foot tall and 14 stone, that's him now."

The campaigner said "there's no point sugar-coating stuff" because people need to sit up and listen.

Mr and Mrs Burns said if they can prevent other families from suffering like they have their efforts will be worthwhile.

Mr Burns admitted it was difficult to do, but said he was more concerned with people understanding that "if you take drugs, you'll end up in a box".

The mother of a 25-year-old woman who died from a heroin overdose in a Belfast city centre KFC restaurant in 2015 was also at the event. Cathy Browne said that her daughter Andrea battled a drug addiction for almost six years before she lost her life.

"There is very little resources out there, I believe this is a human rights issue," she warned.

"The stigma you face as a drug addict is extreme."

Ms Browne said she has been left devastated by Andrea's death but William and Lesley have given her strength.

"I have hardly left the house since this happened, but this is so important," she said.

"We need help. There's no point demonising the user, we need to stigmatise the drug dealers."

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