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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Drugs bus takes message to school
By Sally Nancarrow
BBC News

Sgt Rob Smith and Matoulla Koratzitis
Sgt Rob Smith and Matoulla Koratzitis with the dummy drugs
In the fight against illegal drugs, information and education are seen as powerful weapons - and the police believe in arming the troops young.

In Surrey, a "battle bus" has been touring schools to raise drugs awareness among students.

It is part of Surrey Police's Drugs Destroy Communities campaign, and some of the children who board the bus are not yet even teenagers.

At Ash Technology College in Ashford, 150 pupils aged 12 and 13 visited it.

They were a mix of boys and girls, shy and boisterous and streetwise and innocent.

Some, whom teacher Matoulla Koratzitis described as "just little girls", were clearly in awe of the uniformed officers on board.

But others displayed an awareness of a drug culture which had already touched their lives.

Children armed with information can make a decision based on knowledge and not what their friends tell them
Sgt Rob Smith

The children were shown what drugs look like - with sealed dummy examples of everything from heroin and crack cocaine to cannabis and magic mushrooms - and told about their effects.

The ice broken, some talked about their own experiences.

One boy said he had seen syringes in the park and knew they were discarded by heroin users.

He also knew it would be dangerous to touch them and volunteered that the best thing to do would be to tell an adult - perhaps the park keeper.

A girl said she had been offered cannabis but had said no.

Community Support Officer Mick Eaton said this type of response was quite usual.

"The lads tend to be more boastful than the girls but they both open up after a while," he said.

The tone adopted by former nightclub doorman Mr Eaton was serious but friendly and informal.

Getting the children to chat enabled him to deliver one of the most-often repeated messages of the afternoon - that they should tell someone such as a parent, a teacher, Crimestoppers or the police if they are offered drugs.

Officers Clair Coates and Paul Stevenson with the dummy drugs

One girl said she would be frightened to tell anyone because a dealer would know who "grassed" on him.

But Mr Eaton challenged her with: "How would he know it was you if he had been trying to sell drugs to lots of people?"

And he pointed out that she might be able to save someone else from being offered drugs if a dealer was reported.

Getting 150 children onto the bus in one afternoon meant each group visited for only a few minutes, which Mr Eaton said "felt a bit rushed".

But Ms Koratzitis said the school felt the message that drugs destroy lives was so valuable it wanted as many pupils as possible to be involved.

"I teach citizenship and I know that they are very aware of what is going on around them," she said.

"They don't want to get involved in drugs and are very critical if they know someone who is.

"If you can stop one young person going astray it is worth it."

Having taught at the school for 16 years, she did not feel it had a particular problem with drugs, though children in the area were streetwise.

If anything, alcohol was more of a problem because it was so easily available and because "children have too much money in their pockets".

Not that they need a lot.

Sgt Rob Smith said the first drug a young person was likely to come into contact with was cannabis, which was available for as little as 5 or 10 - "it's very, very cheap".

He said dealers were "conniving, evil people" but it was far too risky for them to operate anywhere near schools.

"They are more likely to use a carrier - who might be an older brother or someone who left school a little while ago."

That is why educating young people is seen as so vital.

"If they know what drugs look like, if they know what the harmful effects are, if they know they are illegal, they can then make their own decision if they are offered drugs rather than rely on what their friends tell them," said Mr Smith.




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