SHOPPERS and children are at risk from hundreds of dirty needles being left in town centre hotspots and parks, it was claimed this week.

Police are stepping up patrols after it emerged that 50 dirty needles are being found in Taunton every month.

Parents taking children to one primary school are taking a detour to avoid walking past drug users.

Pete Ernest, of the Avon and Som-erset Probation Trust, said convicts on community payback schemes often find needles in hotspots including Chip Lane, Station Road, Victoria Park and near Somerset Square.

He said: “I’m worried someone’s going to step on one and all hell will break loose – maybe we’ve found 150 to 200 over the past four months.

“It’s frightening as there are lots of children playing in Victoria Park who are probably unaware of the problem.

“The people using the syringes are given clean needles so they don’t get contaminated, and then chuck them away when they’ve used them without thinking of anyone else’s safety.”

Mr Ernest said community payback workers call him when they find needles to ensure they are removed safely.

Mother-of-two Justine Baker said eight people had complained to her recently about drug use in Chip Lane.

She said: “There are often needles on the ground. Some people have walked past with their children on the way to school and seen drug users injecting themselves.

“It’s not nice for families, and some are now avoiding Chip Lane and taking alternative routes to school.”

A Taunton Deane Council spokeswoman said the Open Space team, part of the authority's Direct Labour Organisation, provides a 24/7 service to remove needles that might be a danger to the public - reports should be made on 01823-356356.

She added: “We're aware there are areas of the borough that become particularly prone to this type of criminal activity and we work closely with the police to combat such crimes.

“The toilet cleaners are equipped with TRAC radios and can contact the police immediately if such activity is taking place.

“UV lighting is being trialled along with increased and visible police presence at these anti-social hotspots.

“Information from the police has found this partnership has been working well.

“We provide safe disposal points for needles in a number of our public toilets in our parks, but there remains an element of the population who don't consider others when disposing of drug-related materials.

“We urge the public to report dangerous materials and this criminal activity.”