A group of nine-year-old boys has been suspended from primary school after they were caught selling cannabis in the playground for pocket money prices.
The case has horrified local parents, and is likely to fuel concern about the number of children experimenting with drink and drugs at an increasingly tender age.
Teachers at Cherry Fold Community Primary School in Burnley caught the four boys selling wraps of cannabis, a Class B drug, for 50 pence each last Friday.
The mother of one of the boys said her son felt pressured into selling the drugs and described what appears to be a sophisticated drug dealing operation.
The single mother, who cannot be named to protect her son’s identity, said: “He told me there was an operation where one child would take the money and another would hand out the drugs.
“It’s shocking and unbelievable. Children should be able to go to school without feeling pressured into selling drugs.”
She added: “My feelings are mixed because my son says he felt like he was pushed into it, but at the same time I teach my children right and wrong.
“I’m disappointed in him and he has promised me it won’t happen again.”
Her concern was echoed by Pete Young, whose three-year-old daughter attends the school, who said: “It is disgusting but in a way I’m not surprised.
“Sadly, it is the way this town is going: It’s terrible.”
Some of the school’s pupils are believed to have been using their pocket money to buy the illegal drug.
The parents of the four boys are currently waiting to see if the suspensions are turned into expulsions.
Because each of the pupils caught dealing the drug is below the age of criminal responsibility they have been given youth referral orders.
This means that they will have to agree a contact, between three and twelve months in length, and that their behaviour will be monitored to ensure there is no repeat of the offence.
Deanne Marsh, acting head at the school, cautioned: “It would not be appropriate for me to comment further as we take our pupils’ confidentiality and safety very seriously and we are still looking into all the circumstances.”
Last month it was revealed that children as young as eleven were taking potentially harmful steroids in an attempt to enhance their body image.
The shocking claim came from Professor Les Iversen, the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
In September it was reported that more than 6,000 children aged between eleven and 15 admitted to regularly taking the steroids.
Prof Iversen said: “Surveys of young people indicate that a small, but significant, number of 11-15 year olds take anabolic steroids.
“This is particularly worrying because steroid use could interfere with their normal growth and sexual development. It is possible that young users are motivated by the same considerations as older people, namely a desire to enhance ‘body image’.”