Health concerns over popular St Helens festival

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Plans for Reminisce Festival 2019 will be more closely scrutinised by public health chiefs after numerous people took ill at this year’s event.

Thousands of revellers flooded Sherdely Park in September for the popular dance festival, which returned to the borough for its fifth year.

However, the event was marred after a dozen people took ill, including a 19-year-old woman and a 22-year-old man who became seriously ill following suspected ecstasy overdoses.

They both made a full recovery.

Michelle Loughlin, St Helens Council’s assistant director of public health, told the environment, regeneration, housing, culture and leisure overview and scrutiny panel this week the festival organisers have asked to return to the borough in 2019, although no plans have been formally submitted.

The plans have to be approved through the council’s licensing and environmental protection committee, although public health was not part of this process in 2018.

Ms Loughlin said feedback on last year’s plans suggest they were “robust” and said the organiser is a “good, experienced operator”.

She said public health are keen to work with the licensing department and other partners to work through next year’s plans to ensure any potential harm is “minimised”.

Ms Loughlin said: “We don’t want to stop people enjoying themselves.

“We want people to come to St Helens and have a good time.

“It has on the whole been a successful event, however we do want to be assured that those plans are robust, and they protect the health and wellbeing of our residents and visitors coming into the borough.”

Thatto Heath councillor Richard McCauley supported the plans, saying public health “must be involved” in the planning process.

Cllr McCauley said: “The last thing we’d want to be saying is that it shouldn’t happen – because why shouldn’t it?

“You could just go to Liverpool or Warrington or somewhere else to go to these events.

“Why can’t we have them in St Helens and let our residents have it on their doorstep and enjoy these things where they can get home okay?

“But when they’re there they should be safe.

“You shouldn’t be worried when your kids are going to these things.”

Festival organisers warned party-goers at the time to watch out for “some bad blue diamond pills”, which were circulating at the one-day event.

Police also recovered a batch of blue ecstasy pills that had been deposited in an amnesty bin.

Ms Loughlin said Merseyside Police told Public Health England it was “likely” that drugs in circulation may have been causing health issues.

However, she said public health has found no evidence that any particular drug had been tested, adding that intelligence was “quite mixed”.

“After the event there were no further instances to suggest there was any particular drug causing any issue within our population,” Ms Loughlin said.

The organisers of Reminisce Festival told the Local Democracy Reporter Service that it is “fully committed” to the safety and wellbeing of all attendees at the festival.

It said that “every possible precaution” will be put in place in 2019.

A spokesman said: “In preparation for the 2018 event, a vigorous event plan was put together and all advice and recommendations were taken from the responsible authorities.

“All authorities had huge input into the procedures that we put in place.

“Sadly, although the actual casualty level on the day was considerably lower than in the previous year, in 2018 the severity of some of the casualties from drugs related conditions was cause for serious concern.

“This was something that I believe caught everyone a little off guard.

“We can absolutely guarantee that every possible precaution will be put in place for 2019 to help avoid a repeat of the 2018 incidents.

“We have already had several meetings and will be spending a lot of time with all the relevant authorities to collectively make decisions on the best and safest way forward.”