Substance Misuse / Drugs Strategies in Schools and Supportive Legislation


Devon and Cornwall Constabulary aims to divert young people from crime and under the Criminal Justice System we are able to consider options other than prosecution in certain circumstances. Recognising this, planned, structured and consistent multi-agency approach is needed to achieve the best outcome for the young person involved and for the school.

Accordingly incidents will be dealt with by taking all factors into consideration and working in close partnership with schools and parents/guardians.

Document definitions


This document uses the term to refer to any psychotropic substance, all legal drugs (including psycho-active drugs ‘legal highs’, including alcohol and tobacco, all illegal drugs, volatile substances, and over-the- counter and prescription medication.

Drug Taking

The consumption of any drug. All drug taking, including medicinal use, carries the potential for harm. Different interventions are appropriate to address drug taking by young people.

Drug Use

Drug use is drug taking through which harm may occur, whether through intoxication, breach of school rules or the law, or the possibility of future health problems, although such harm may not be immediately perceptible. Drug use will require interventions such as management, education, advice and information, and prevention work to reduce the potential for harm.

Drug Misuse

Drug taking which harms health or functioning. It may take the form of physical or psychological dependence or be part of a wider spectrum of problematic or harmful behaviour. Drug misuse will require a further range of interventions, which may include treatment

Drug Incident

Evidence or suspicion of a specific event at a school involving one or more unauthorised drugs, and requiring immediate action by school staff.

The Police Role

To ensure consistency across the force, Devon and Cornwall Constabulary adopts a three level approach to dealing with drug incidents in schools. The table below shows the three levels of support.

Collection and Administration

Taking temporary possession of and disposal of suspected illegal drugs

Partnership Investigation

Taking temporary possession of and disposal of suspected illegal drugs

Police Investigation

Widespread or persistent offences, the Police will formally investigate the incident, with possible intervention work by YIOs

Level One – Collection and Administration

Taking temporary possession of and disposal of suspected illegal drugs

The law permits school staff to take temporary possession of a substance suspected of being an illegal drug. See the section titled XXX for how to carry out an appropriate search.

School staff should not attempt to analyse or taste unknown substances. The police can advise on analysis and formal identification.

If formal action is taken against a pupil, the police should make arrangements for them to attend a local police station accompanied by an appropriate adult for interview. Only in exceptional circumstances should an arrest or interviews take place at school. An appropriate adult (e.g. parent, duty social worker) should always be present during interviews.

Level Two – Partnership Investigation

Minor drug related incident managed by school with support by local police / YIO

Minor offence

A minor offence (e.g. a small amount of cannabis resin, the size of
a thumbnail, for personal use only)

Schools and the police should work together through existing practices to ensure there is an agreed policy based on local protocols for dealing with the range of incidents that might arise. It is recommended that schools engage with their local Youth Intervention Officer (YIO) as they will have a good overview of local issues. YIOS are also a good source for advice and general support.

The following criteria should be agreed and set out in the school drug policy:

  • When an incident can be managed internally by the school.
  • When the police should be informed or consulted
  • When the police should be actively involved
  • When a pupil’s name can be withheld and when it should be divulged to the police

Importantly, there may be a very small number of incidents where the police need to take action irrespective of agreed protocols or wishes of the school.

In all instances in school involving illegal drugs, the local neighbourhood Beat Manager or Youth Intervention Officer (YIO) should be informed, even if it is minor and the school deals with the matter internally.

The ‘Crime recording by Police Officers working in schools’ protocol (2004) endorses that a Police Officer does not have arrest for a minor possession offence as long as the school has dealt with the incident, unless the school or a parent request that a crime be recorded. Any arrest though should not be on school premises unless unavoidable. For more information regarding crime recording in schools, see XXX.

Schools have no legal obligation to report an incident involving drugs to the police. Nevertheless, not informing the police may prove to be counter-productive for the school and wider community. <br>
Source to be updated

Level Three – Police Investigation

Widespread or persistent offences, the Police will formally investigate the incident, with possible intervention work by YIOs

Where the circumstances surrounding a finding of illegal drugs indicate a more serious, widespread or persistent offences, the Police will formally investigate the incident with the assistance of the school. As well as being conducted by neighbourhood beat managers, other resources may be engaged, for example, drugs dogs and surveillance.

‘Serious offences’ would include where the substance is suspected to be a Class A drug such as Ecstasy, Heroin, Cocaine, LSD and Crack Cocaine, or Amphetamine (Class B). Supply of any illegal drug could also constitute a serious offence. It should be noted that ‘supply’ does not necessarily require that payment be made.

In these more serious offences, police officers will attend the school, evidence will be seized, statements taken and the young person may be arrested. The home address may be searched and the young person interviewed at a Police station in the presence of an appropriate adult.

Initial Police response to requests from schools should be appropriate to the circumstances. In incidents where advice is sought, this should normally be via the Youth Interventions Officer. In all other routine incidents Sector Patrol Officers or Neighbourhood Beat Managers will be tasked to deal.

The School Role

In order to maintain consistency, there are a number of elements that schools can complete prior to potential incidents. In this chapter we suggest what schools and colleges can do to ensure the wellbeing of their students and the protection of their staff.

What schools can do

The following provides guidance from both the DfE and ACPO.*

  • Develop a drugs policy which sets out their role in relation to all drug matters – this includes the content and organisation of drug education, and the management of drugs and medicines within school boundaries and on school trips. It should be consistent with the school’s safeguarding policy.
  • Have a designated, senior member of staff with responsibility for the drug policy and all drug issues within the school.
  • Develop drug policies in consultation with the whole school community including pupils, parents/carers, staff, governors and partner agencies.
  • Establish relationships with local children and young people’s services, health services and voluntary sector organisations to ensure support is available to pupils affected by drug misuse (including parental drug or alcohol problems). Links to supportive national organisations are included at the end of this document.
  • A senior member of staff who is responsible for the school’s drugs policy should liaise with the police and agree a shared approach to dealing with drug-related incidents. This approach should be updated as part of a regular review of the policy.

Click here to view documentSearching a student

The DfE document ‘Screening, searching and confiscation – Advice for head teachers, staff and governing bodies’ provides comprehensive information for dealing with searching students who may have drugs in their possession. Although, key points are listed below, it is recommended that all staff who may carry out searches read this document.

  • A search should only be carried out by staff authorised by the head teacher.
  • Teachers can only undertake a search without consent if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a pupil may have in his or her possession a prohibited item.
  • A search should be carried out by a member of staff who is the same gender as the student.
  • A witness (staff member) should always be present and where possible, be the same gender. This should only be ignored if there is a risk of serious harm and it is not reasonable practicable
  • Searches must only be carried out on school premises, or if elsewhere, where the member of staff has lawful control or charge of the pupil, i.e., school trips.
  • The power to search without consent enables a personal search, involving removal of outer clothing and searching of pockets; but not an intimate search going further than that, which only a person with more extensive powers (e.g. a police officer) can do.
  • Members of staff can use force as is reasonable given the circumstances when conducting a search for drugs. Separate advice is available to teachers. See XXXX.

* DfE and ACPO drug advice for schools (2012)

Use of drugs dogs in schools

Throughout the country drugs dogs have been used in schools in different capacities, but the positive use of dogs in schools can be undermined if their implementation is not consistent across the region.

Each school should consider the following when wanting to have drugs dogs in school.

  1. Is your school drug education policy current?
    Are your pupils receiving a programme of drug education that includes the legal status of drugs?You will be expected to evidence a programme of education across Key Stages. The effects of this type of operation are based upon the arousal of fear about the likelihood and effects of discovery. It is important therefore, that other teaching methods are employed to balance the delivery of the PHSE/Science/Citizenship curriculum within current drug education strategies. There is significant evidence which reports that fear arousal alone does not change behaviour or attitudes towards illegal drugs. However, it seems to have a more successful effect upon young people who would most probably never engage in drug use.
  2. Is your school drug incident management policy up to date and does it clearly reflect incident management procedures and the use of this sort of operation?
  3. Have your pupils and parents/carers been made aware of this policy as part of an ongoing process?
  4. Has the school referred to and considered the ‘DfE and ACPO drug advice for schools’ (DFE-00001-2012) and local LEA guidelines?
  5. How does the use of a drug dog meet the identified needs of the school? Is the use of a drug dog feasible and an effective response?
  6. Have you obtained parental consent? (See DFES Guidelines Appendix 10)
  7. Is the use of a drug dog consistent with the pastoral responsibility of the school to create a supportive environment? How could it affect the ethos of the school? Could the use of a drug dog in an enforcement capacity deter young people who would otherwise seek help and advice within the school context?
  8. The drug dog has an ability to indicate past possession or contact, close contact, pupils using another persons’ clothes/rucksack etc. for example on a coat shared with an older sibling, family using cannabis and scent on clothing from home/peer environment.
    It does not indicate or prove drug possession, but gives a Police Officer justification for conducting a drug search.
  9. Are you confident that the possible benefits of operating a drug dog in schools (e.g. deterring pupils from bringing illegal drugs into school) will outweigh the possible costs. See table below

Potential Benefits

  • Ensuring a safe learning environment.
  • Keeping school drug free.
  • The community sees schools doing something about a perceived drug problem.
  • Deterring pupils from bringing drugs into school.
  • Media interest – this school is doing something

Potential Issues

  • Human rights issues around privacy and searching of pupils.
  • Implications of being positively indicated and/or searched, and labelling/stigmatising regardless of whether a positive or negative search.
  • Potential for exclusion, truancy and criminalisation of young people at a crucial stage of their development- known factors to potentially exacerbate drug use.
  • Bullying opportunity with regards to possible planting of drugs on a young person by another student.
  • Knowledge that follow-up searches are unlikely, therefore not an effective ongoing deterrent to bringing drugs in to school.
  • Media interest – this is a school with a serious drug problem.

10. Have you considered the possibility of teachers and other staff members being identified by the drug dog in possession, past possession or contact with a substance? [br]Once pupils become aware of the presence of the drug dog drugs may be dropped on the ground prior to the search, which may not lead to any pupils being found in possession.

Next steps

If the school decides to request the services of a drug dog, it is advisable to contact all parties likely to be involved or affected to discuss any future operation in advance of any final decision being made.

Arrange a consultation meeting with the police and other parties to be involved to discuss the questions in the above checklist.

Attendees should include:

  • LEA Drugs Education Advisor
  • Co-ordinator Youth & Community Service
  • Drugs Service
  • Young People’s Specialist Substance Misuse Services
  • Education Welfare Officer
  • South West careers
  • Youth Intervention Officer (YIO)
  • Youth Offending Team
  • Pastoral Committee
  • Governor with lead responsibility for drug issues
  • Other relevant agencies

A clear action plan and evaluation criteria should be established by everyone involved. The five key issues to address are:

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]1. Has a consultation meeting been arranged with all relevant parties?[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]2. Who else will be involved? [br] (See above list) [/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]3. Have the issues raised in the checklist been discussed with these partners?[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]4. Do these partners agree with the need for this type of operation? [br] If some object this may adversely affect the public perception of any operation, and could lead to negative publicity. If the Police and LEA object you may have difficulty resourcing this sort of operation.[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]5. Is the Chair/Board of Governors aware of the proposed operation? [br] Discuss plans at an early stage with the Chair/Board of Governors. If after considering the previous sections you still wish to request the presence of a drug dog in an enforcement capacity, please contact your local Neighbourhood Beat Manager, or YIO who will consult with the Drug Dog handlers.[/box]

Involvement of sniffer dogs at the request of the headteacher

Where a school believes that there is reasonable evidence of possession or supply of suspected illegal drugs they should consult their local police. The advice from ACPO is that local police, if they are to respond with the use of sniffer dogs, should do so as part of a warrant led operation, unless evidence may be lost by delaying the search. However, schools considering sniffer dog searches without the authority of a Police warrant should exercise extreme caution before doing so.
Source: Drugs: Guidance for Schools, DfES/0092/2004

The Police and other partner agencies will want to ensure that you have considered the following, when planning any operation involving a drug dog.

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]1. What are the school’s aims and objectives for the operation? [br] This will provide a clear purpose, set boundaries and provide criteria for success necessary in the evaluation process.[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]2. Which age group will you focus on for the operation? [br] There are certain levels of information and evidence that may be required by agencies such as the Police. Any operation should be intelligence led, namely through information and evidence and not rumour. Consideration should also be given to substance use by all age groups and staff. [/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]3. What are the implications for all pupils, parents/carers, school staff, visitors to the school, and school ethos?[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]4. How will parents, young people and others gain information about the operation? [br] Prepare a letter to be sent before the event to the ‘whole school’ – student’s parent/carers staff explaining the operation. This reduces the scope for misinformation and sensationalism. Be aware that not all students and parents/carers will be supportive towards this method of operation. It is important that clear information and explanations are given out. DFES Guidelines state that parents and carers should have given their consent (usually in writing) and have the right to opt out of the operation and should be given the opportunity to do so. This is an important human rights issue.

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]5. Have you arranged an Open Evening? [br] Offer parents/carers the opportunity to attend an open evening to discuss drug issues. If arranged before the operation, this can be an opportunity to reassure parent/carers, seek their support and provide helpful education to them. An open evening after the operation is an opportunity to deal with any issues that have arisen e.g. negative media coverage, and to raise awareness of substance use issues.[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]6. Have you considered the location(s) for the operation? [br] Consideration should be given to the appropriate location and timing of the search. With evidence or justification such as pro-active dog indication or screening device indication, background searches may take place throughout the school. The Police can only search if there is evidence or justification. There are issues around ownership and responsibility for lockers, desks, and shared areas etc. i.e. Who owns it? Whose responsibility is it? What about private possessions?[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]7. Agree what the terms and conditions are for confidentiality; who should be informed about the operation prior to it taking place i.e.-teaching staff, etc. [br] Confidentiality must be reinforced at this stage. The briefing informs school staff about the operation. The need for Staff support, sensitivity and co-operation are essential. However, see above point 4 and DfES Guidelines regarding parental/pupil consent. If they are not informed they are not able to withdraw consent.[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]8. How will you brief all school teaching staff immediately prior to the operational activity taking place?[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]9. How will issues of confidentiality be dealt with relating to staff and pupils?[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]10. How will you preserve the pupil’s rights to privacy? [br] Young people must be given the opportunity to declare their fear and be treated fairly. Legal issues about student safety must be considered in relation to animals on school premises. Some young people may be allergic to dogs. This can result in anything from irritation to severe asthma attack. The use of dogs may also be culturally insensitive – for example, dogs are considered unclean in Muslim & Buddhist cultures.[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]11. How will you support young people who may be afraid of or allergic to the Drugs Dogs and also take cultural issues into account? [br] There are many implications of being indicated and searched, including the likely labelling/stigmatising of pupils, whether a positive or negative search. A drug dog/drug detection device is unlikely to indicate medication, however students receiving medication must also have their rights to privacy upheld. There are many sensitive issues connected to this. Care must be taken not to “disadvantage” young people who are receiving prescribed medication. Staff may not be aware of who within their schools is taking or in possession of medication. There are “Human Rights” issues associated with this and parent/carers may be sensitive to protecting their child’s rights and feelings. Any checking by a dog may need to occur in a private area so that no other pupils witness any positive or negative indication.[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]12. Do you understand search procedures? [br] Inevitably some young people or adults may be identified with drugs, by the drug dog/drug detection device or intelligence gathering. This may result in grounds for a Police search. See above re stigmatisation. Is there a private search area? How will you ensure that other pupils’ visitors or staff are not aware of who is being searched in case of a negative indication?[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]13. Within the Police operation there is a risk that some individuals may be found in possession of an illegal substance. Is your school clear about what actions will be taken in the case of pupils, staff or visitors being found in possession of drugs? [br] Does your school have a clear incident management policy that gives a range of interventions according to the pupil and all circumstances? Have you consulted the protocol document – ‘Police Response to Substance Misuse Incidents in Schools – (Revised October 2004)’?[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]14. Is the school clear about what actions will be taken in the case of pupils, staff or visitors being subject to allegations such as drug possession by other pupils, parents, staff, other agencies, etc.? [/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]15. How and when will you inform parents of Police searches on individuals? [br] It is advisable that the school informs the parents/carers of any individual young person being searched by the Police. This reduces misinformation and anxieties. Who will act in loco parentis in the event of a search. It is not appropriate for a teacher who may also be subjected to the same search, or who was part of the planning operation for the event, to then be in loco parentis?[/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]16. Will there be a press statement? [br] Have you a plan in place to deal with potential media interest? Contact should be made with the Press Office: 01392 452200 [/box]

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]17. Are you satisfied that a coherent and comprehensive plan of action is in place and understood by all? [/box]

Follow Up

How will the initiative be evaluated?

It is advisable to evaluate the impact of the initiative during following PSHE lessons. This can maximise the impact of the initiative and can create additional value. The school and other agencies are also then equipped with evidence and information, which will inform and may support future work programmes.

Have you agreed a strategy for future follow-up education and or operations?

What additional drugs education activities will you employ to provide a balanced curricular approach?


Before operations take place, a school’s drug policy needs to be in place to enable a comprehensive and thorough risk assessment to take place.

To inform this process, it is necessary to ensure that there is collaboration and negotiation between all interested parties. There are many implications and risks associated with the use of drug dogs on educational premises.

The use of a drug dog is a last resort. Investment into alternative ways of tackling the issues around “zero tolerance” of drugs on school premises needs to be encouraged. To re-iterate the Government and Department for Education and Skills – it is recommended that schools should primarily be encouraged to address ways of:

  • Reducing the demand for drugs by young people
  • Increasing young people’s resilience
  • Delivering a sound and quality drug education curriculum
  • Ensuring that school drug policy is in place
  • Developing support mechanisms for young people, and
  • Providing effective training for all school staff.


Drugs dogs can also be used in schools for demonstration and educational purposes and can be a positive addition to the curriculum, for the students and for our officers.

Schools will need to have procedures in place and have agreed in advance with the police what will happen should a dog detect a trace on a pupil, member of staff or visitor to the school.

The purpose of demonstrations or educational visits should be made clear. Demonstrations/medical visits should never be used surreptitiously as a detection exercise. The following shows how dog visits can fit into the national curriculum within the subject of Citizenship.

Key Stage One

Unit 4 – People who help us – the local Police
Unit 8 – How do rules and laws affect me?

Key Stage Two

Unit 4 – People who help us – the local Police
Unit 8 – How do rules and laws affect me?

Key Stage Three

Unit 2 Crime
Knowledge and understanding about becoming informed citizens:
1a – legal and human rights and responsibilities underpinning society, basic aspects of the criminal justice system, and how they relate to young people.
Unit 15 – Crime and Safety awareness – a whole school multi-agency approach
Follow up work – Developing skills of enquiry, communication, participation and responsible action

Key stage Four

Unit 2 Crime – Young people and crime
Knowledge and understanding about becoming informed citizens:
1a – Legal and human rights and responsibilities underpinning society, and how they relate to citizens, including the role and operation of the criminal justice systems
Follow up work would also address the following aspects of KS4 programme of study. Developing skills of enquiry, communication, participation and responsible action


In April 2013, the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) act introduced changes in the way the police deal with disposals for young people.

Formerly the crime disposals were dealt with in an escalatory way, meaning that once a young person they would return to court for all subsequent disposals, even for a minor offence.

The new method of disposals means that young people can receive any of four disposals in any order at any time. There is also a requirement for the police to consult with YOT for all second and subsequent disposals to ensure that the best outcome is achieved for the young offender.

The available disposals for young offenders , aged 10-17, are

  • Restorative justice
  • Youth caution
  • Youth conditional caution
  • Charge to court


Schools will be given advice, and action will be taken, in confidence to avoid undue publicity and to maintain a co-ordinated partnership approach. The police will be sensitive to the role that the media can have in maintaining confidentiality.

The police will not issue press releases for seizure of drugs at schools without the prior knowledge of head teachers., except in cases of concern for public safety or where investigation into a serious offence may otherwise be jeopardised. Any media response will normally be agreed by both the school and the police prior to release.

Disposal of Drugs

When controlled drugs are found in a ‘without consent’ search, these must be delivered to a police station as soon as practicable but may be disposed of if the person thinks there is ‘good reason’ to do so.

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]

Good Reason

[br] In determining what is a ‘good reason’ for not delivering controlled drugs or stolen items to the police, the member of staff should take into account all relevant circumstances and use their professional judgement to determine whether they can safely dispose of a seized article. Where staff are unsure as to the legal status of a substance and have reason to believe it may be a controlled drug they should treat it as such. Screening, searching and confiscation – Advice for head teachers, staff and governing bodies (DfE) [/box]

The police will not normally need to be involved in incidents involving legal drugs, but schools may wish to inform Trading Standards or police about the inappropriate supply of tobacco, alcohol or volatile substances in the local area.

The following explains how different drug types should be disposed of.

Alcohol and tobacco

Parents/Carers should normally be informed and given the opportunity to collect the alcohol and tobacco, unless this would jeopardise the safety of the child.

Volatile Substances

Given the level of danger posed by volatile substances, schools may arrange for their safe disposal. Small amounts may be placed in a bin to which pupils do not have access, for example a bin within a locked cupboard.


Disposal of medicines held at school should be covered in the school’s medicines policy. Parents/carers should collect and dispose of unused or date-expired medicines. Prescription drugs can be returned to pharmacists

Illegal drugs

it is recommended that these are stored in a suitably secure place for collection by the police as soon is as practicable.

Suspected illegal drugs

Suspected illegal drugs are better disposed of by the Police who have clear policies for doing so. [hr]

Recording the incident

There is no legal requirement to make a record of the search, but we would recommend that you do so, including:

  • Name of the pupil
  • Date and time of the incident
  • Brief details of search
  • Staff member carrying out the search
  • Staff witness
  • What was found (including nothing if search was negative)
  • How drugs were disposed of (E.g. police officer attendance, including their force number


Some of the concern regarding searching students is the implications of possible complaints by parents or by the student. The following section endorses your rights to carry out searches when appropriate to do so. Complaints about screening or searching should be dealt with through the normal school protocol

Frequently asked questions

I’m a teacher; can I refuse to search a pupil without their consent?

Yes. A head teacher cannot require a member of staff to conduct a search. In order to conduct a search without consent, a member of staff must be authorised to do so. Staff can choose whether they want to be authorised, or not.

Is there a risk that I could face legal challenge if I search a pupil without consent?

Head teachers and authorised school staff have a specific statutory power to search pupils without consent for specific items – knives/weapons, alcohol, illegal drugs and stolen items. As long as the member of staff acts within the limits of this specific power they will have a robust defence against a legal challenge.

Screening, searching and confiscation – Advice for head teachers, staff and governing bodies (DfE)

Drug Information

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You can find further in-depth information at the Frank website.frank_link

Drug support


Local Drug support provider
Freephone – 0800 1693787

Drug Education Advisor
Cornwall Healthy Schools Scheme Drug Advisor
Health Promotion Service
The Kernow Building
Wilson Way
Pool, Redruth
TR15 3QE
01209 313419


Devon (excluding Plymouth/Torbay)

Local Drug support provider
01271 388162

Drug Education Advisor
Health Schools – Drug Education Advisor
Devon Curriculum Services
Great Moor House
Bittern Road
01392 385352



Local Drug support provider
Harbour Drug and Alcohol Services


01752 434343

Drug Education Advisor
Schools Drug Advisor
Education Department
Plymouth City Council
Civic Centre
01752 307489



Local Drug support provider
Drug and Alcohol Youth Worker at Torbay Youth Service: 01803 208100
Under 18s Drug & Alcohol Worker at Checkpoint: 01803 200100
Drug and Alcohol Worker at Torbay Youth Offending Service: 01803 201655

Drug Education Advisor
Citizenship and PSHE
Torbay Council – School Standards
Manor Crescent
01803 559395


Isles of Scilly

Drug Education Advisor
Isles of Scilly LEA
Town Hall
St Mary’s
Isles of Scilly
TR21 0LW
01720 422537