As her mother shares her last happy photo of Shakira — killed by an ec­stasy tablet at 15 — we re­veal why ever younger chil­dren are be­ing sucked into Bri­tain’s drug epi­demic

Daily Mail - - Comment - by Re­becca Evans

RITA HOLE sits on a Newquay beach watch­ing her 15-year-old daugh­ter play­ing in the waves. She takes a pho­to­graph as Shakira laughs and dances on the sand — a lit­tle girl still in so many ways. It cap­tures a per­fect mo­ment; one Rita will cher­ish, as it is her last im­age of her youngest daugh­ter alive.

A few days later Shakira and a group of her friends buy a batch of blue tri­an­gu­lar tablets. Chillingly, they bear a child-friendly Du­plo logo — the Lego tod­dler’s build­ing block — but they are deadly. Ac­cord­ing to her friends, Shakira took three of these ec­stasy tablets which cost just £2 each. Twelve hours later she was dead; an­other teenage vic­tim of a drug epi­demic that has Bri­tain’s school­child­ren in its grip.

The next photo Rita takes is heart­break­ing. It shows Shakira un­con­scious in her hospi­tal bed, sur­rounded by a mesh of tubes and wires, slowly dy­ing as her body over­heats and her in­ter­nal or­gans col­lapse.

‘I watched the doc­tors fight to save her for 13 min­utes,’ says Rita. ‘I could hear her bones break­ing in her chest as they tried to re­vive her. But it didn’t work.

‘They turned off most of the ma­chines as they could see it was too late. I cra­dled her head in my arms, telling her how much I loved her. I wanted her to know she wasn’t on her own, I was with her. I was will­ing her to live, plead­ing with ev­ery­thing I had.

‘It was 10.15am on Satur­day when she died, drenched in my tears as I kissed her face.

‘No mother should have to lose her baby like this. It’s too much to bear.’

Shakira’s death is not an iso­lated case. She is just one tragic ex­am­ple of a grow­ing trend. Drug deaths are ris­ing, and the vic­tims are get­ting younger. More school­child­ren than ever are gam­bling with their lives by tak­ing il­le­gal sub­stances.

An NHS re­port pub­lished ear­lier this year into drug use among pupils re­veals that more than one in ten 11-year-olds has taken recre­ational drugs, ris­ing to more than a third of 15-year-olds.

Mean­while, in 2016, al­most a quarter of UK school pupils ad­mit­ted to tak­ing drugs — com­pared to 15 per cent in 2014. Al­most half said they had bought them from a friend of the same age.

Last month, two drug deal­ers, Craig Banks, 40 and Do­minic Evans, 21, were jailed by Liver­pool Crown Court for sell­ing ec­stasy pills to school­child­ren through so­cial me­dia sites Face­book and Snapchat. Chil­dren then sold the drugs on to their class­mates, seven of whom were hos­pi­talised.

JUST this week, video footage emerged on­line of pupils as young as 12 snort­ing white pow­der at a school in Sun­der­land, while in other schools in the New For­est, Hamp­shire and Taun­ton, Som­er­set, teach­ers have re­sorted to send­ing in snif­fer dogs to search for drugs.

At the same time, the num­ber of chil­dren dy­ing af­ter tak­ing drugs — pri­mar­ily ec­stasy or MDMA to give it its chem­i­cal name — has reached a record high.

Shakira died a week ago to­day, a few days af­ter Reece Mur­phy, 16, died from tak­ing MDMA af­ter fin­ish­ing his GCSEs in Dorch­ester, Dorset. On June 23, showjumper Han­nah Bragg, 15, from Tav­i­s­tock, Devon, died af­ter tak­ing the Class A sub­stance while also out cel­e­brat­ing the end of her ex­ams.

In May, Joshua Con­nolly-Teale, 16, died af­ter tak­ing ec­stasy on a camp­ing trip with friends in Rochdale, Greater Manch­ester dur­ing a break from re­vis­ing for his ex­ams. Luke Pen­ning­ton, 14, died af­ter tak­ing the syn­thetic drug Spice dur­ing a sleep­over in March at a friend’s house in Stock­port, Cheshire.

The tragic list goes on — a roll call of promis­ing, and so very young, lives wasted.

It is now 23 years since the fam­ily of A-level stu­dent Leah Betts re­leased the har­row­ing im­age of her on a life- sup­port ma­chine as she lay dy­ing af­ter tak­ing a sin­gle ec­stasy tablet on her 18th birthday.

But as Shakira’s death shows, the drug is still killing young­sters as in­dis­crim­i­nately as ever, and if any­thing, it is stronger and more deadly than two decades ago.

And Rita, 47, has re­leased the photo of her dy­ing daugh­ter to warn other teenagers.

On the day she died, Shakira, the youngest of Rita’s three daugh­ters — she is also mum to Nikita, 21, and Jes­sica, 26 — had been ex­cited as three of her friends were coming for a sleep­over af­ter school.

Be­fore leav­ing for her job as a com­mu­nity carer for the el­derly, Rita pre­pared the spare room of their semi in Cam­borne, Corn­wall, and stocked the kitchen with food for teens.

Her words to her daugh­ter as she left for work were: ‘ Be good’ and ‘look af­ter each other.’ But soon af­ter Rita re­turned from work at 10pm her world be­gan to un­ravel.

‘Fif­teen min­utes later there was a knock at the door. It was one of Shakira’s friends.’

About 30 of them had been in the park where the tablets were taken. Whether it was planned, or they were ap­proached by an op­por­tunist dealer, po­lice are yet to es­tab­lish.

Shakira’s friend said she had fallen, com­plain­ing that she was in trou­ble — and was ‘go­ing to die’.

Rita was hor­ri­fied to learn her friends didn’t phone for help straight away. Un­aware of the dan­ger, and keen to cap­ture the drama, they ac­tu­ally filmed her as she lay on the ground.

‘It was a woman who was walk­ing past and saw what was go­ing on who ac­tu­ally di­alled 999.’

Rita and her part­ner Lee Butcher, 49, who works in a ware­house, ran to the park and found paramedics bat­tling to save Shakira’s life af­ter she suf­fered a car­diac ar­rest.

‘I was in a daze. I couldn’t process what was hap­pen­ing. But the po­lice said I needed to go with them right away.

‘As we raced to the hospi­tal in Truro with the blue flash­ing lights on, it started to sink in how se­ri­ous things were.’

Soon af­ter her ar­rival, Shakira suf­fered an­other car­diac ar­rest as her tem­per­a­ture soared way be­yond nor­mal body tem­per­a­ture of 37c.

‘ The doctor said it was the high­est tem­per­a­ture he’d ever seen. They put ice packs all over her. She seemed a bit more sta­ble af­ter this so we took the photo of her, to show her how lucky she’d been, how the next time she was think­ing about go­ing out and do­ing some­thing daft like this, to re­mem­ber.’

But a few hours later, Shakira suf­fered her third and fi­nal car­diac ar­rest and quickly de­te­ri­o­rated. The next morn­ing she was dead. It was not the first time Shakira, a Year 10 pupil at Cam­borne Academy, had taken ec­stasy.

She had ad­mit­ted to her mother hav­ing tried it once be­fore, but promised she never would again.

Trag­i­cally she broke her prom­ise. Us­ing money given to her by her fa­ther, Sean Pel­low, 47, from whom Rita is sep­a­rated, for a shop­ping trip, she and her friends bought the pills from a man at the park.

Af­ter her death, doc­tors found one of these tablets in her pocket.

Po­lice have since ar­rested and bailed two 17-year-olds for pos­ses­sion with in­tent to sup­ply. There are no of­fi­cial fig­ures for the ex­act num­ber of chil­dren who have died af­ter tak­ing drugs, but ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice of Na­tional Sta­tis­tics, eight peo­ple un­der 20 died af­ter tak­ing MDMA in 2000, com­pared with 18 in 2016.

Sim­i­larly, deaths in­volv­ing cannabis over the same pe­riod have risen from nine to 27.

So what are the rea­sons for the rise? And what can be done to stop chil­dren, as Rita says, from play­ing Rus­sian roulette with their lives?

An­drew Halls, 59, head­teacher of King’s Col­lege School in Wimbledon, South-West Lon­don, is so con­cerned about the avail­abil­ity of drugs to chil­dren, he has sent a let­ter to par­ents warn­ing them of their avail­abil­ity on­line.

Even a cur­sory in­ter­net search brings up pages of web­sites of­fer­ing ev­ery­thing from MDMA to crack co­caine, and promis­ing doorstep de­liv­er­ies.

‘Drugs are now more avail­able to young peo­ple than ever be­fore and they can get them anony­mously, says Mr Halls. ‘They can buy them on­line or through a mo­bile phone

num­ber. They’ll be around on a moped quicker than Ama­zon.

‘ If you’ve just fin­ished your GCSEs and go to a fes­ti­val you might be given ec­stasy by a dealer who will say, “You can have this for free, but you have to give me your mo­bile num­ber”.

‘They will get a call the fol­low­ing week of­fer­ing more. That’s a great con­cern for me.’

Af­ter send­ing his let­ter, Mr Halls was con­tacted by other con­cerned head­teach­ers who also recog­nise the prob­lem. ‘There’s a great deal of moral rel­a­tivism about it,’ says Mr Halls. ‘The sheer avail­abil­ity now cre­ates an en­vi­ron­ment of ac­cep­tance.’ He adds: ‘Twenty years ago, when I be­came a head­mas­ter, drug deal­ers were de­monised. Now the dealer is prob­a­bly your mate who or­dered it over the in­ter­net and who’s go­ing to give it to eight other peo­ple. The “real” sup­plier could be some­one in a Shang­hai lab.’ Fiona Spargo-Mabbs’s 16-year- old son Daniel died in Jan­uary 2014 af­ter tak­ing MDMA at an il­le­gal rave in South Lon­don. She now runs a foun­da­tion to help ed­u­cate chil­dren about the dan­gers of drugs. She is con­cerned about the de­cline in drug aware­ness ed­u­ca­tion in schools. ‘Teenagers think they’re in­vul­ner­a­ble and we have to ed­u­cate them about the dan­gers of these drugs. MDMA in par­tic­u­lar has got stronger. ‘The time spent by schools teach­ing per­sonal, so­cial, health and eco­nomic ed­u­ca­tion — which cov­ers drug aware­ness — has dropped by at least a third in re­cent years and at the same time, there’s more ac­ces­si­bil­ity, nor­mal­i­sa­tion and glam­or­i­sa­tion of drugs.’ Mark Byrne, of drugs char­ity Ad­dac­tion, agrees: ‘ The drug land­scape has def­i­nitely changed: 17-year- olds used to buy them when they went club­bing and in so­cial set­tings. Now 15-year- olds would find it hard to get into a club but it’s still easy for them to get hold of drugs.’

Many re­cent drugs deaths have been caused by MDMA, which was de­vel­oped in Ger­many in 1912. It works as a re­leas­ing agent for sero­tonin, the chem­i­cal in the brain as­so­ci­ated with feel­ings of hap­pi­ness.

AF­TER peak­ing in pop­u­lar­ity the Nineties, it fell out of favour, partly due to the Leah Betts cam­paign, and as ‘rave’ par­ties waned in pop­u­lar­ity.

Sales were also af­fected by the rise of le­gal highs — psy­choac­tive sub­stances that mimic ‘tra­di­tional’ il­le­gal drugs.

Then there was a dwin­dling sup­ply of the oil-rich chem­i­cal saf­role, an in­te­gral part of ec­stasy man­u­fac­tur­ing, but syn­thetic re­place­ments have now been found and most dis­turbingly of all, the drug is be­ing dis­cov­ered by a new gen­er­a­tion naive to its risks.

And the prod­uct is stronger than ever. In the Nineties, the av­er­age MDMA con­tent was between 50 and 80mg. Now it’s closer to 125mg, while some ‘ su­per pills’ are as a high as 340mg.

Not only is it stronger, it is cheaper, at £2 to £3 a pill com­pared to £20 in the Nineties.

And, cyn­i­cally, man­u­fac­tur­ers make them ap­peal­ing to teenagers — and seem­ingly in­nocu­ous — by stamp­ing them with fa­mil­iar lo­gos such as ‘ Pur­ple Ninja Tur­tles’ or Coca-Cola bot­tles. Sarah Lush, the mother of reece Mur­phy, the teenager who died ear­lier this month af­ter tak­ing ec­stasy in Dorch­ester, also re­leased a pow­er­ful pho­to­graph of her son on a life sup­port ma­chine.

Sin­gle mother Sarah, 38, who works in a res­tau­rant, says: ‘He was my only child and he had so many mem­o­ries to make, that’s what breaks my heart.

‘Now I’m plan­ning his funeral. Be­fore this, drugs weren’t on my radar. I guess he took it be­cause his friends were, be­cause he was young and cu­ri­ous.

‘It’s just not sunk in yet, my body isn’t let­ting me ac­cept it. I can’t be­lieve he’s not here any more.’

For Sarah and rita, only mem­o­ries re­main. rita shows me her youngest daugh­ter’s vi­o­lin and gui­tar. She wanted to be a mu­si­cian, she says.

A teddy bear sits on her bed. Her walls are cov­ered with pic­tures of New York. She had dreamed of vis­it­ing the city.

‘I al­ways told her she was amaz­ing,’ rita says. ‘That she could do any­thing she put her mind to. She wanted to travel, she could speak Dutch, French and Turk­ish. We were due to go on hol­i­day to­gether to Turkey soon. She was go­ing to turn 16 in four months time and we were plan­ning a big party.’

Her fi­nal warn­ing is heart­break­ing. ‘To any child think­ing about tak­ing ec­stasy, please, please do not do it. You think you are go­ing to have fun, but these drugs are so strong, they could kill you.

‘Just look at what hap­pened to my Shakira. Her dreams are now never go­ing to come true.’

Tragedy: In the space of a few days Shakira’s mother took these two starkly con­trast­ing pic­tures of her daugh­ter, who later died in hospi­tal

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.