Belfast Telegraph

Why we need to hunt down the drug kingpins who live in luxury and prey on children like lovely little Caitlin

By Lindy McDowell

How much do you think a drugs lord makes off a deal that takes the life of a 15-year-old child? I’m not talking here about the low-level skunks who sell the stuff on the streets.

I’m talking about the boys right at the very top of the food chain. The drug kingpins who control the local drugs trade from the comfort of their grand houses and maintain an impressive lifestyle with exotic holidays and expensive cars.

All of it funded by the many minor transactions at street level, which only occasionally are brought to our notice via the sort of heart-rending tragedy we’ve seen this week.

You don’t have to know the price of drugs on the street to hazard a guess there’s not a big profit margin when your customers are 15-year-olds.

So what do the godfathers ultimately get off such a deal? The price of a Mars Bar? Even that?

Looking at that picture this week, of lovely little Caitlin White, I felt two profound emotions.

First of all sorrow for that beautiful child. And for her poor family and friends.

“Bubbly” is the word they all seem to use to describe Caitlin, and you can see why. In that one lovely picture there’s no pouting or posing from this girl. She’s beaming straight at the camera. A face that’s honest and open and full of fun. And heartbreakingly young and full of life.

And now all that’s been taken from her.

Which brings me to the second emotion. Anger. At the time of writing police are linking Caitlin’s death to drugs. The investigation must take its course. But the very fact that a drugs link is being considered in the tragic death of a child says it all.

We know that there were other schoolkids using the same piece of woodland in Portadown as a meeting place.

They’re young. They want to be out with their friends, away from parental surveillance. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We all did at that age.

Nor can parents be blamed for giving them a bit of freedom, trusting that they stay safe. You can only keep them under your wing for so long.

But like their peers elsewhere in Northern Ireland, these children are part of a lost age group. For there is precious little in the way of facilities provided for them. And that applies not just in Portadown, but in towns and cities and villages right across Northern Ireland.

This is something which should, this week, be a top priority for discussion and action at Stormont. Except that currently there is no Stormont. They’re too busy, right now, squabbling over hair colour.

As for the rest of us ...

Our attitude towards drugs and those who trade in them isn’t all that robust either.

Take, for example, the current despicable efforts being made to transform drugs mule Michaella McCollum into some sort of shabby celebrity.

McCollum has spent so much time of late paddling in the Med and pouting for the cameras, I fear she’s in danger of contracting trench foot. She’s shameless. But the very fact that she thinks such a career is a possibility (and it is) doesn’t say much about the rest of our society.

Meanwhile, police in Portadown report that they have been aware of the kids meeting in the woodland and have noted a number of cases of “antisocial behaviour”. The real antisocial behaviour, though, lies way further up the drug chain. And that’s where resources should now be concentrated.

On those gangsters whose greed extends to preying on children. And whose profits come at the cost of a little girl’s life.

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