‘There’s no stand-off from us’: PSNI defend response to Coalisland drugs problems

  • Police refute claims crystal meth is circulating in Coalisland

The PSNI have defended their response to growing fears over Coalisland’s drugs problems following concerns of a “stand-off” between officers and the community over the issue.

Superintendent Alywin Barton denied claims of a police “stand-off” with Coalisland residents, vowing to attend a meeting with concerned families in the coming weeks.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme this afternoon, the F-District Superintendent said that, among other operations, police had carried out 37 drugs seizures in the area since the beginning of last year.

Coalisland has a dedicated neighbourhood policing team and a regular level of patrolling, he told the programme.

He said: “The ‘stand-off’ isn’t from our point of view. We can bring a lot to the discussion once we get into the room.”

Superintendent Barton also said the police believed the highly addictive opiate crystal meth was not circulating in Coalisland, despite local fears that children as young as 13 are being offered the drug.

Church of Ireland minister Rev Andrew Rawding – who has met police representatives along with Coalisland parish priest Fr Paul Byrne to discuss the issues – said officers had concerns over safety and security in Coalisland.

He said on the radio programme: “There seems to be a little bit of a stand-off between the local police and the community.”

But Rev Rawding believed that a public meeting with the PSNI was now appropriate.

He said: “The first couple of meetings perhaps weren’t meetings where the police would have been welcomed. I think we are now getting to the point that perhaps some of that initial energy and anger has been let out and we can now work together with the police.”

He added: “It may be that police have to listen to a lot of anger, but out of that I hope there will be a relationship of trust.”

Concerns over the town’s problems with drugs have grown over the several weeks following numerous newspaper reports. Today was the first time the issues of drugs in Coalisland were aired across the province to a wider audience.

Residents last night criticised the police for failing to act as the town held its fourth public gathering on drugs – again without any police representatives.

Challenging the police superintendent on the PSNI’s work against drug dealers, presenter Wendy Austin said: “The people in Coalisland I’m guessing want to see these guys off the streets and off their kids’ backs.”

Malachy Quinn, chair of the SDLP Coalisland branch, said: “I want to see policing really take this issue by the scruff of the neck. This problem has been around for 10 years.

“There are currently areas of the town itself and in the outlying area where we know young people get together to drink and do drugs and these areas have been reported to the police before.”

A Coalisland mother, who put her 14-year-old son into care after he became hooked on drugs, also spoke anonymously on the radio about her experience.

She told presenter Wendy Austin she got her son tested for drugs after his behaviour and attitude changed.

Her son began to mix with “bad company” and at one point broke into a shop, she told the programme.

She said: “My son was just a normal teenager and he was a good child.

“His behaviour just went from being a normal child to a child that was just very out of control and was staying out late at night.

“I thought if he continues like this for another lock of months down the line, he could be in a brown box and I could be standing at the grave side.”

Related stories:

>BBC report: Police refute claims ‘meth’ circulating in Coalisland

>Police under pressure to attend public meeting on Coalisland drugs issues – but allegedly say: ‘We’re not ready’

>COMMENT: ‘Our drugs and alcohol problem in Coalisland is a parenting issue’

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