Mum's shock at finding drug needles in Belfast's CastleCourt shopping centre
A horrified Lisburn mum has told how she found a toilet floor in a top Belfast shopping centre littered with drugs paraphernalia during a Christmas shopping trip with her 14-year-old daughter.
The local woman, who does not wish to be identified, said she fears for the safety of children and other shoppers after finding what appeared to be up to five needles, three syringes and an empty vial lying discarded on the floor of toilets in CastleCourt shopping centre at the weekend.
At a time when the city centre venue is busy with shoppers preparing for Christmas, the mum-of-two fears families and young children could come into contact with dangerous drugs and needles, running the risk of contracting potentially life-threatening diseases.
"I had been out Christmas shopping with my daughter on Saturday and we cut through CastleCourt just after 5pm and used the ladies' toilets on the first floor," she said.
"My daughter had gone into one of the toilets before me, and when she came out I went into a cubicle.
"I don't know if we used the same one. I just happened to look on the floor and noticed the plastic caps, then I saw the needles, the syringes and a vial which had had drugs in it. I was just so shocked.
"What if my 14-year-old daughter had put her coat down on the floor, a needle had got caught in it and it had cut her when she picked it up?
"Or what if a child had gone into the toilet by themselves and picked up a needle? If I had been with my two-year-old nephew he could have grabbed a syringe.
"They could have ended up contracting HIV, hepatitis, or another life-threatening disease. It's a danger to people of all ages.
"Needles aren't something that I had ever previously thought to check for in public toilets, but I will be making a point of doing it now.
"It just frightens me how easily something very bad could have happened."
The shocked woman immediately alerted a cleaning attendant who was present in the toilets at the time.
"The shopping centre was extremely busy, and when I came out there were two young girls aged about seven and eight waiting to go into the toilets, so I made sure to alert the attendant," she continued.
"When she saw the syringes she said she would have to call someone, so I let her take care of it and left. I know that they can't really monitor the toilets 24/7, but I want to raise awareness so that other people check if they are going into a public toilet."
The woman subsequently contacted CastleCourt via social media regarding the incident, but says she was left "angry" at the response from the shopping centre's head of security in a phone call yesterday afternoon.
"He told me it is a society problem which is widespread in Belfast, but my issue is that whatever they're doing to combat it isn't working," she said.
"I asked if they could put security in the toilet area in the run-up to Christmas, when the shopping centre is busier, to act as a deterrent.
"He said that the industry standard is to check the toilets every 30 minutes, and they are already checking every 15 minutes.
"The response made me angry as it's not just a social problem - if they are using the shopping centre to do drugs, it's a CastleCourt problem. If there is an epidemic of drug use in Belfast city centre businesses then they need to do more to protect their customers.
"If this is the sort of thing that Belfast is being faced with, I would warn other people to have a look first before using any public toilets".
A spokesman for CastleCourt said: "We fully appreciate that this was an alarming incident for the customer involved and we are extremely grateful to her for reporting it straight away.
"A cleaning team was immediately dispatched and the offending materials were swiftly and safely removed.
"We would like to reassure all our customers that incidents such as this are rare and we regret this unfortunate experience. We have a robust inspection regime in place every 15 minutes with our security and cleaning teams to ensure toilets are routinely checked.
"We take this incident extremely seriously and we will continue to work with our service providers, PSNI and other relevant agencies to minimise these type of incidents."
The PSNI said that they had not received any reports of the incident.