Belfast Telegraph

Grieving dad stuns crowd by displaying son's ashes at anti-drugs talk in Belfast

By Cate McCurry

The heartbroken father of a young man who died from an overdose left a crowd in stunned silence after he held up his ashes as he launched a new anti-drugs campaign.

William Burns, who lost his son Jamie (23) through drugs last November, is fronting the 1 Pill Will Kill campaign in a bid to raise awareness about the dangers of drugs.

Political representatives, members of the clergy, young sportspeople, ex-prisoners and people from across the community were left shocked as William held aloft the ashes of his once fit and healthy son.

Surrounded by campaign posters picturing Jamie, the grieving father told the crowd: "Look at what is left of my son."

Yesterday's launch comes a week after a spate of five deaths in Belfast, which are believed to have a drugs link.

A man passed away suddenly almost two weeks ago, while three young men and a teenage girl died suddenly last Monday.

The PSNI said they suspect a link with drugs in two cases, and said it is a possibility in the others.

The youngest was a 16-year-old girl from west Belfast.

Police officers believe that prescription and illegal drugs, taken with alcohol, are behind at least two of the tragedies.

Ardoyne priest Fr Gary Donegan described seeing Mr Burns holding the ashes up as one of the "starkest" images he has witnessed.

"It was a jaw-dropping moment when he pulled the ashes from a cardboard box," he said.

"If a man is driven by grief to the extent that he could do what he did, it was courage personified and was an unbelievable experience. My heart went out to him.

"There was an incredible outpouring of unity in the community and you had every walk of life represented.

"William and his wife are heartbroken and they don't want to see this happen to anyone else.

"We can't be sugar-coating this because if this campaign could save just one person it's worth it."

The anti-drugs campaign was launched at the Houben Centre on the Crumlin Road in north Belfast.

Belfast Mayor Brian Kingston said it was a "very moving launch". He added: "There was silence in the room, it was very striking and emotional for the parents but William is trying to get the message across that he had a fit and healthy son in his 20s and one reckless decision cost his life," he said.

"We want to target the issue of supply and express our total opposition to those who peddle drugs and are dealing in death and care nothing for our people."

Speaking previously about the launch, William said: "The PSNI can only do so much. Drug agencies can only do so much.

"Most of us bury our heads in the sand unless it affects our families - and I'm not afraid to say that was me up until my Jamie died - or we can begin to fight back."

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