`The Pied Piper has come to town and heroin is his tune'

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The Independent Online
IN AN anonymous house, in a neat little street in the former pit village of Moorends, near Doncaster, Brian, 16, is "doing his rattle", local slang for heroin withdrawal. In another room his elder brother, David, who has overdosed several times, is also trying to come off the "brown". Brian says he cannot bear what their addiction is doing to their mother.

#It is the same story in a house a few streets away, where John, 18, is 10 days into his latest attempt to beat the drug. He is desperate to win, for he has sold everything, including his precious motorbike, to fund his habit, and his mother wears her bedroom key round her neck to stop him stealing her jewellery.

All three boys are staying in, and avoiding their mates, most of whom have just begun the late-morning "drug run" to secure the day's first fix. You can watch the junkies if you know where to look: Moorends has five dealers and nearby Thorne has more. A phone call or a stroll down the street and the next "hit" is yours.

At first it is hard to take all this in, for Moorends, in the shadow of the defunct Thorne pit, looks so ordinary. But there are 150 registered drug addicts in this village of 4,500 people. Despite daily searches of teenagers on the street and raids on houses, heroin has re-emerged as the drug of choice. Moorends is evidence that it is reaching places it never reached before.

South Yorkshire Police say the village is at the end of two drug routes, which start in Liverpool and Hull, and that hundreds of Moorends youngsters smoke or inject it. "It is like the Pied Piper has come to town and heroin is his tune," says Maureen Walsh, 50, whose family has been blighted by it. "The kids still love their families but when the craving is on, nothing else matters, and to get it they tell such lies."

A huge rise in petty crime was the first sign the drug had arrived. Mrs Walsh's daughter Lorraine remembers the shock of returning to live in Moorends after 10 years in Doncaster. Houses were being burgled and garden sheds raided. Within days she saw teenage boys "booting it" (smoking heroin) in a phone booth and another group shooting up in a car. Moorends' high water table flushed out the ugly truth. After a downpour, scores of syringes floated up through the drains.

There were angry meetings between the police and community. Residents said the police were not doing enough; officers levelled the same complaint against the community. Vigilantism surfaced. Middle-aged men with baseball bats set out to hunt the junkies and dealers. On their first outing they beat up an innocent boy.

A more orderly war is now being waged from the Bungalow, a drugs drop- in and advice centre recently set up by Mrs Walsh and other parents with a pounds 19,000 grant from the police. Officers are supportive but only visit by arrangement. The softly-softly community approach seems to be getting results. More than a hundred youngsters have sought help. And so have their parents. At the Bungalow, Sue, 41, explains the shock of discovering that three of her children are addicts. "I'm on tablets for stress; I've sat and cried with my sons but it is so hard for them to get off it. My middle son left for four weeks to get away from the scene but overdosed a day after coming back. You're always terrified your child will die."

She says the Bungalow has relieved one pressure. Before it started, many parents believed only a tiny minority of teenagers were users, and blamed their families.

The sense of "us and them" has weakened, for some of those parents have since discovered their children are users too.

That does not mean denial has entirely disappeared. There are still those who believe the Bungalow has brought shame to Moorends. Mrs Walsh says the pits may have gone but the village still has its pride. "There are a helluva lot of good people here and they don't want anyone to know their children are taking."

A stalwart of the soup kitchens during the miners' strike, Mrs Walsh says the community must realise that the unity it showed then is the answer now. If she ever worried about gossiping neighbours, she does not now. "Words cannot kill my kids," she says. "But heroin can."

But why have Moorends' youngsters succumbed so quickly and in such numbers? The Bungalow points to the unemployment and general depression after the death of coal and steel. The generation now on heroin grew up watching their parents go under. And it is low-paid training schemes, not jobs, that many of those youngsters are offered. The police point to the insularity of Moorends, where people have traditionally stuck together and from where, even now, many youngsters hardly venture.

Brian says: "I knew all the dangers but I started taking heroin because it was there. I was bored and it seemed exciting. Just about everyone I knew was using it. And it was cheap, at least in the beginning." Mrs Walsh believes the Bungalow is winning. And, according to the police, full of praise for local efforts, there has been a significant drop in crime since the beginning of the year.

But the Bungalow knows it has a long way to go. An agitated teenager turns up in the early afternoon. In private, he begs Mrs Walsh to lend him pounds 2. He has been off heroin for a few weeks and, as a show of trust, his parents gave him pounds 4 that morning to buy magazines. He no longer has the money and has not bought the magazines. He tries to persuade Mrs Walsh he lost the coins but she suspects he pooled resources with a mate to buy a hit. The real battle for those brave enough to "do the rattle" is constant temptation. In Moorends, the next fix is never far away.