Teenagers burn bus shelters to get high

YOUTHS are setting light to plastic bins and bus shelters in a desperate attempt to get high by inhaling the fumes.

Charred holes have been discovered in plastic sheeting on bus shelters in West Lothian as a result of the dangerous craze.

A spate of wheelie bin thefts have also been reported from outside homes in the district as teenagers resort to the bizarre practice in search of a "buzz".

It is thought that youths are resorting to the method because recent crackdowns mean shopkeepers are now less likely to sell glue or lighter fluid to youngsters.

As well as the damaged bus shelters, several wheelie bins with small holes burnt along the sides and on the lid have been found by police in the Black Moss woodlands in the town of Armadale. West Lothian Police say there has been a rise in recent reports of wheelie bin thefts in the district.

Scotland currently has the highest solvent-related death rate in the UK. Experts say sniffing fumes from burning bus shelters and bins is the latest worrying craze as young addicts desperately search for new highs.

Duncan MacLean, who represents Armadale on West Lothian Council, said the problem was causing widespread concern and had been discussed by Armadale Community Council.

He said: "There’s dinner plate-sized holes in bus shelters all over the place. It’s not purely for vandalism because the kids behind it are not setting fire to the whole thing. All they are doing is burning small holes with cigarette lighters and then sticking their nose in it to inhale the reek.

"Everyone who has ever smelt burning plastic will know it stinks to high heaven. God knows what the appeal is in it, it’s obviously just a means to an end to get them a high."

Mr MacLean added that when there is no bus shelter handy, wheelie bins seem to make a reasonable alternative.

"If the kids can’t get away with it at the bus shelter, they are lifting people’s wheelie bins and taking them to the woods for the same sort of thing. There’s bins being found with small holes burnt all over them," he said.

"I don’t know if it’s because shops are clamping down on selling glue that they are resorting to this sort of thing, but it’s a very worrying trend."

Since 1999 it has been illegal to sell lighter fuel to anyone under 18. Traders who break the law can face a fine of 5000 or six months in prison.

Warren Hawksley, director of the anti-solvent abuse charity Re-Solv Scotland, warned youngsters taking part in the new craze were dicing with death.

He said the charity is aware of the problem and is investigating what it could do to help.

Mr Hawksley added: "Certainly the plastic from both of these would be very poisonous. I would be very concerned for the health of anyone inhaling the gases given off by burning plastic. We have heard about youths targeting bins and bus shelters and we would appeal to anyone who can give us any more information."

Re-Solv, which is the only UK charity solely dedicated to preventing solvent abuse particularly among young people, opened a new centre in West Lothian earlier this year.

The office in East Calder High Street offers support to young people involved in solvent abuse and their families. It is part of a wider strategy by the charity to help cut the death toll in Scotland from solvent abuse. Mr Hawksley said the office - which is supported by The Community Fund for Scotland, Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland, The Robertson Trust and The Gannochy Trust - is part of a long-term plan to tackle the problem.

Although progress has been made, more work needs to be done, he said.

He added: "Butane is the number one killer among a long list of abused volatile substances."

"We are particularly pleased with developments in Scotland now that it is tackling the problem of sales of butane gas lighter refills to under-age people."

Anyone concerned about solvent abuse can call Re-Solv (www.re-solv.org) for advice on 0808 800 2345.