Top Irish school suspends six pupils as young as 13 over drugs
Six pupils at one of Northern Ireland's top schools have been suspended on drug-related matters, according to reports.
Belfast's prestigious Campbell College confirmed it had taken action against the Year 10 and Year 12 boys - who are as young as 13 - due to "two isolated incidents involving cannabis".
In a statement, headmaster Robert Robinson said the school's policy "around misconduct, especially concerning drugs, is robust", adding, "We believe in tackling these issues head on."
The all-boys private day and boarding school, which educates pupils aged between four and 18 and costs £2,500 (€2,950) a year in fees, recently wrote to parents to inform them of the suspensions.
Mr Robinson also pledged to, "continue to work in collaboration with parents and the relevant bodies to help educate and support young people as they navigate their way through this very difficult terrain".
He added: "We are facing a very real societal problem at present with young teens exposed to a multiple of evils, mostly fuelled via social media."
The news will come as a shock to Old Campbellians, who include world-renowned authors, Olympians, Victoria Cross and Nobel Prize winners, international rock stars, leading actors and sporting heroes.
One proud past pupil of the school, which also excels in rugby, is former Ulster star Chris Farrell, who said the renowned institution offered "so many better alternatives" to drugs.
"Having been at Campbell until 2011, I know how many extra-curricular opportunities there are for kids to focus on other things, whether that be sports, arts or music, and that's obviously the best route to go down," he said.
The six suspensions follow a spate of drug-related deaths in Belfast last month, in which a 16-year-old girl and four men died within days of each other.
Mr Robinson said the school, which was founded in 1894 and has a strong international reputation - attracting students from as far afield as Hong Kong, Singapore and Africa - is committed to resolving the wider drugs problem.
"We work in very close collaboration with the Education Authority, Social Services, Education Welfare and, in particular, the PSNI to ensure we act appropriately and in the interest and safety of all our pupils," he said.
"Recent news reports have highlighted the increasingly challenging world in which our young people exist and the PSNI and Education Authority have both witnessed a surge in drug-related incidents across the board for teenagers.
"That means there is an increasing need for all of us - schools, parents and the many organisations that work in this arena - to work together as we guide our young people towards making good choices."
The principal said the school is "working closely with a number of east Belfast schools to deliver a programme of education and support and have already delivered workshops for parents and pupils on areas of concern".
He stressed that Campbell College "will continue to take a strong stand against misconduct involving drugs and will work collaboratively to help guide our young people through the ever increasing challenges they face".
Mr Robinson added: "That is our role and as society throws more challenges at us we all have a duty to step up to the mark."
Former Education Minister and DUP MLA Peter Weir said there was a problem across Northern Ireland around young people and drugs and he praised how the school has handled the situation.
"There is no point trying to hush things up or brush things under the carpet because the issue with drugs in schools must be addressed," he said.
"Schools need to take action to warn people of the dangers of drugs and I welcome and commend the proactive and open approach that Campbell College has taken."
Last January, a 14-year-old boy at Bangor Grammar School was suspended for distributing cannabis to other pupils.
A PSNI spokesperson confirmed they were aware of the incident at Campbell.
"Police are aware of an incident at a school in east Belfast and are working closely with the school in relation to a report which was made to police on March 27," he said.
"Police work with schools to promote the dangers which young people find themselves confronted with during their young adult lives.
"Police would appeal to anyone who has concerns to speak with their local neighbourhood officer so we can work in partnership to address any issues."