Thursday 19 September 2019

Girl (14) almost blinded after being attacked with firework on way to school

Claire McVeigh with her daughter Sophie
Claire McVeigh with her daughter Sophie

Victoria Leonard

An outraged mother says her 14-year-old daughter is lucky not to have been left blinded or severely disabled after she narrowly avoided being hit in the face by a firework.

Claire McVeigh's daughter Sophie, a pupil at Ballymena Academy in Northern Ireland, has been left in shock after the early morning incident on Wednesday, which is understood to have occurred when a child took a lit firework out of his pocket and threw it away.

She said that her daughter had looked up to see the firework shooting towards her face, forcing her to duck and to pull her 13-year-old friend out of the way to avoid injury.

"Sophie and her friend went to The Kiosk shop to get sweets before school. They were standing outside the shop and suddenly she saw a firework coming towards her," Ms McVeigh said.

"Sophie ducked or it would have been straight into her face, but her friend didn't see it, so she grabbed him and pulled him down too.

"The firework landed behind them, and it was so close that the sparks were flying out over them.

"She didn't see who lit or threw the firework and there were pupils from several local schools there, but she shouted to the boys standing where it came from and they all laughed; they didn't care that it was dangerous.

"Sophie could have been blinded or permanently disfigured - it was just down to luck."

After receiving a tearful phone call from her traumatised daughter, she reported the incident to Ballymena Academy.

She says she has since heard that anti-social behaviour by schoolchildren such as letting off fireworks, fighting and throwing bottles occurs regularly at Ballymena station, and fears that it is "only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt".

"I was told that they have been letting off fireworks every day for the past few days, and that small area is always packed with schoolkids, increasing the chances that someone will be injured," she said.

"I would like to see a crackdown with more police patrols and teachers in the station to prevent this behaviour.

"I also think Translink needs to act. This isn't an isolated incident."

Ballymena Academy principal Stephen Black said it was "terrible that someone would endanger another young person" and called the incident "reckless". "There's no indication which school those responsible belong to," he added. "I was down at the bus station myself this morning (Thursday) and at certain times of the year there is additional support from the schools.

"We have discussed the use of fireworks in school assemblies, and we take any anti-social behaviour very, very seriously. We would liaise with Translink over any incidents that are drawn to our attention. We have limited powers outside of school grounds."

The PSNI said it had received a report of youths in school uniforms throwing fireworks in the Galgorm Road area on Wednesday morning.

It said that the matter had been passed to neighbourhood policing officers "who will carry out enquiries into the matter and take steps to prevent further incidents from occurring".

Neighbourhood policing team Inspector Michael Simpson said that it was "illegal to possess, sell, handle or use fireworks if you do not have a licence", and those breaking the law could be fined up to £5,000.

Translink said it had received reports of an incident involving schoolchildren using fireworks in the vicinity of Ballymena bus and train stations on Wednesday morning.

It added that it was working with the PSNI, community representatives and councillors to tackle anti-social behaviour, and urged parents to monitor their children's whereabouts and behaviour.

Anyone with information can contact police on 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Belfast Telegraph

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