Fa­ther pledges to bat­tle on with hard-hit­ting drug cam­paign a year af­ter son’s death

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY AL­LAN PRE­STON

ONE year af­ter north Belfast man Jamie Burns died of a drug over­dose, his fa­ther has vowed to con­tinue a hard-hit­ting cam­paign to save oth­ers.

On Mon­day at 5pm, a special ser­vice will be held at St Anne’s Cathe­dral to mark the an­niver­sary of Jamie’s death.

His par­ents are also en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers who have lost loved ones through drugs, men­tal ill­ness and sui­cide to at­tend.

Speak­ing yes­ter­day, Wil­liam Burns said he and his wife Les­ley still strug­gle to sleep af­ter los­ing their son and that daily re­minders such as hear­ing his favourite song can be over­whelm­ing.

The 23-year-old was out with friends in Belfast on Novem­ber 20 last year when he took an ec­stasy pill. His funeral was held four days later.

A post-mortem re­vealed he had an un­di­ag­nosed heart prob­lem, which made him es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to the toxic ef­fects.

De­ter­mined not to shy away from the dev­as­ta­tion his fam­ily has en­dured, Mr Burns de­liv­ered a pow­er­ful speech ear­lier this year dur­ing which he showed a sam­ple of his son’s ashes to the crowd.

“Al­though I had his ashes in my pocket, it wasn’t un­til the last few sec­onds of the speech that I ac­tu­ally de­cided to do it,” he said.

“It was as if he was telling me to be that blunt. The ef­fects of drugs aren’t nice, there’s no sense sugar-coat­ing any­thing.”

“I’ve been out to about 10 or 12 houses, par­ents have asked me to come and speak to their son and daugh­ter.

“I tell them ex­actly what it’s like for the par­ents, or their sis­ters and broth­ers.”

He added: “The Mon­day ser­vice is for Jamie, but I know from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence we have a lot of fam­i­lies in this coun­try that have lost sons and daugh­ters in the same cir­cum­stances. It’s for them too.”

Fr Gary Done­gan, who served at Holy Cross Church in Ar­doyne for 15 years, is con­duct­ing Mon­day’s ser­vice along­side Rev Canon Mark Ni­block from St Anne’s Cathe­dral. “The thing that strikes me about Wil­liam is his courage as a fa­ther,” he said. “I’ve been at the scenes of many tragic things that no-one should ever see, but when Wil­liam held the re­mains of his son at the launch of the cam­paign I was aghast. Firstly be- cause of the blunt­ness, but also the courage. Some peo­ple try to anaes­thetise pain, but we can only be­gin to live the re­al­ity of loss if we face it.”

He con­tin­ued: “If there’s any com­fort, it’s that there are prob­a­bly peo­ple still walk­ing around today who are only alive be­cause of the one pill cam­paign, and there are fam­i­lies not go­ing through this dev­as­ta­tion and heartache.

“All of us make mis­takes in life, but we have sec­ond chances. The tragedy with drug deaths is peo­ple don’t get that sec­ond chance.”

A large ban­ner at the top of the Ar­doyne Road with Jamie’s pic­ture and the mes­sage of the ‘one pill will kill’ cam­paign he in­spired is now seen by thou­sands ev­ery day.

The group is hop­ing to un­veil sim­i­lar mu­rals at other in­ter­face ar­eas in the city and Mon­day’s ser­vice will mark the start of a new six-week cam­paign.

Mr Burns has said the key warn­ing to young peo­ple is cen­tred on the pain caused to those left be­hind.

“I’m con­vinced that a year ago if there was some­one like me in the pub­lic eye preach­ing about this, I know for a fact Jamie would be alive,” he said.

“A story I tell is that one night I couldn’t sleep and came down­stairs at 3am; all I could hear was Jamie’s mum up­stairs cry­ing her heart out, still.”

“Even now there are cer­tain songs which will make me cry. Half the World Away by Oa­sis was our song. Jamie loved Oa­sis and if that song ever came on we al­ways sang it at the top of

our voices. It’s a very emo­tional song; when I heard it played dur­ing a re­hearsal in St Anne’s ear­lier I burst out cry­ing.”

He con­tin­ued: “When I talk about that, you can see the kids start to un­der­stand.

“It’s bru­tal, but it’s the truth about what hap­pens. That’s why I talk about see­ing Jamie in ac­ci­dent and emer­gency, iden­ti­fy­ing his body in the morgue and what hap­pens after­wards.

“I don’t want to give chil­dren night­mares, but I want them to un­der­stand.

“One par­ent told me there will al­ways be kids who take drugs and won’t lis­ten and I can’t help them. But the ones who stay to lis­ten, those are the ones you have to reach.”

Vol­un­teer Tina Patrick said the re­sponse to the cam­paign had been heart­en­ing, with the mes­sage also res­onat­ing in ar­eas like Bush­mills, Bal­ly­mena and Lurgan.

“For me the ser­vice is open to all who have lost loved ones to drugs, men­tal health and sui­cide,” she said.

You can see the kids start to un­der­stand, it’s bru­tal, but it’s the truth about what hap­pens


Clock­wise from top left: Wil­liam Burns; Fr Gary Done­gan; Jamie Burns; vol­un­teer Tina Patrick with Mr Burns and Fr Done­gan in front of the ‘one pill will kill’ ban­ner at the top of the Ar­doyne Road in Belfast

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