I WANT to issue a thank you to all who have been using the county’s beaches and parks in the last few weeks with the lockdown easing.

With warmer weather, we saw considerable additional footfall in all coastal areas, which brought additional pressure on ourselves and our partners. I am glad to report that there were no problems raised and the planning that continues into this worked, making it a safe visit for all.

I have, however, been concerned about a significant increase in youth gatherings, alcohol consumption and associated anti-social behaviour. It is not uncommon for this to happen in a single town, but what we have seen is consistent across many of our towns – with Musselburgh, Haddington, Longniddry, Prestonpans and Dunbar causing the main challenges for our officers.

We completely understand that Covid-19 has brought significant challenges for our children and young people. It is only natural that, with the easing of restrictions, they all want to meet up and spend time with their friends again. However, that needs to be done in a safe manner that does not adversely impact upon our communities.

Recent events that my officers have been called to included significant alcohol consumption, as well as the abuse of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and associated anti-social behaviour.

On many occasions, the mess left behind for others to clear up and damage caused is not acceptable. It is also particularly concerning that this intoxication has led to a number of increased risks, including the danger of sexual assault.

It is really important that parents and carers know that their child or young person is at all times safe, not engaging in any disorder or spending time with a group causing disorder, and that they are at all times able to look after themselves. We have done a lot of work to prevent the sale and supply of alcohol to those who are underage but we keep finding discarded bottles, cans and packaging, often in large quantities.

When we ask for your help on social media or by using other platforms, we often receive the same comments – many of which make light of the issue, saying it’s part of growing up, etc. This is not just about community wellbeing and me promoting a safe county, this is about protecting our young people from serious harm.

In East Lothian, we have recently seen some of our young people’s lives torn apart due to alcohol consumption and sexual assaults. I see it happening more and more, and it has to stop. We have to work together, and we need parents and carers to take a more robust approach to ensure our young people are protected. This starts with preventing them from abusing alcohol and other substances.

I will be having conversations in the next few days with senior managers across all services to ensure we are doing everything we can to look after our young people, providing them with the support they need, and together making our county as safe as it can be. We have additional police officers from across the force assisting us and will take a robust approach in our relentless efforts to tackle these issues.