Belfast Telegraph

Abandoning street safe scheme could cost lives, warns mother of one-punch attack victim

By Victoria Leonard

The mother of a one-punch attack victim fears more lives could be lost if a council does not continue to support the Street Angels project founded in his memory.

Kathleen McBrearty's 28-year-old son Darren died after being attacked outside a bar in Omagh, Co Tyrone, in August 2013.

His death was the second fatal one-punch attack in the town in two years, after 19-year-old Jason McGovern died on New Year's Eve 2012.

In November 2013, the community banded together to launch Omagh Street Safe Project, dubbed Street Angels, to ensure no more young lives were lost.

Up to 70 volunteers began patrolling the streets at the weekends, assisting vulnerable young people, defusing tense situations, and offering a listening ear to those in distress.

It was originally funded by the Department for Social Development's Neighbourhood Renewal Programme.

When this ceased in March 2016, Fermanagh and Omagh council continued to back the project by providing administration support and co-ordinating personnel, a role currently performed by an officer from the Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP), who accompanies volunteers on patrol on Saturday nights.

However, with the council reluctant to fund a new £25,580 co-ordinator post and seeking to shift responsibility for running the project onto unwilling volunteers, the future of the scheme is in jeopardy.

Kathleen (58) said she had been "re-traumatised" to "hear of the threat" to the Street Angels.

"Eight members of my family enrolled in the Street Angels scheme after Darren died, and it was a great relief for me to know that they were out there keeping people safe," she said.

"I wouldn't want another mother or father to go through what I had to go through.

"I'm disgusted that the council can't find the money to fund a job which could help save lives.

"That project gave me comfort, it was my son's legacy and a lot of lives have been saved because of the Street Angels. I would be afraid that other lives could be lost if it is scrapped."

Christopher McLean, of Main Street, Gortin, was jailed for 18 months for manslaughter in November 2014 over Darren's death.

Kathleen continued: "Street Angels didn't save my son, but it could well have saved someone else's child.

"When I saw my son after the attack he was unconscious, on a ventilator and with wires and tubes coming out of him.

"Brain stem tests showed no activity, so we donated his organs.

"Five people are alive today because of him. Darren was very loving, he had a heart of gold, and I always say that whoever got it has a golden heart."

A Street Angels volunteer said the scheme was "on life support" due to the impasse with the council.

"The scheme has saved lives and the level of violence has dropped as a result," he said.

"Volunteers already give up their own family time at the weekend and on nights like St Patrick's and Boxing Day.

"It's enough responsibility without expecting them to run a constituted charity, which isn't what they signed up for. The number of volunteers has dropped from 70 to around 12, and several volunteers have resigned, as they don't like the way they are being portrayed by the council.

"This has gone on for over a year and they don't feel listened to or respected. It would be a tragedy if the town lost this service."

A spokesperson for Fermanagh and Omagh District Council that the project was "supported by £3,000 from Fermanagh and Omagh Policing and Community Partnership plus staff time."

He described this as "not sustainable as it involves one staff member working every Saturday night without a break".

He said volunteers had "refused to engage with the council" and a council officer's recommendation to close the project, made at a committee meeting on Tuesday night, had been deferred for a month to allow volunteers to "consider their position".

He added: "Officers have been formally engaging with volunteers since October 2016 to explore options to enable the project to operate on a volunteer-led basis with financial support and some level of co-ordination function delivered by PCSP staff.

"This was never a council project and the safety of public on the streets is not a council responsibility.

"When funding was in place for the project the retention of the co-ordinator post proved difficult primarily due to the unsociable hours.

"In the period May 14 to March 16 there were five coordinators appointed."

Belfast Telegraph

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