Adam's dad welcomes convictions of legal high sellers - the first of its kind in UK
The father of a Co Down teenager who died after taking legal highs has welcomed the first ever UK convictions for selling the substances as a step to getting them off Northern Ireland's streets.
Adam Owens was found lying in the middle of West Winds housing estate in Newtownards earlier this month. A self-confessed legal highs addict, he died in hospital a short time later.
The 17-year-old had been in a house with friends where it is believed the drugs may have been taken.
It was revealed at Belfast High Court yesterday that two men charged with supplying a dangerous product at a shop in Belfast city centre have entered guilty pleas in a groundbreaking case. A woman who worked at Soho Bookshop pleaded guilty at an earlier stage.
The counts against them involved failing to comply with safety regulations by selling the Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) on various dates between October 2013 and July 2014.
Belfast City Council brought the proceedings against Ashley James Campbell, Ian Brown, Susan Bradshaw, Infernal Publishing Ltd and Soho Bookshop of Gresham Street.
Charges against a fourth person in the case were withdrawn after a barrister for the council told the court: "We have, without prejudice, withdrawn the criminal proceedings because we don't believe Aiden Kerr exists."
Criminal action and civil litigation were both taken to secure a ban on the trader selling any NPS from the premises.
Attorney General John Larkin QC and Belfast City Council jointly called for the courts to stop them selling NPS anywhere in Northern Ireland.
Days after laying his son to rest, an emotional Carl Owens said shopkeepers must take responsibility for what is on their shelves.
He said: "Every time they're selling this to kids they're potentially killing someone else. They wouldn't give legal highs to their own children, but they're quite willing to give them to any other children. They make it so easy for the kids to actually get hold of them.
Welcoming the convictions, Mr Owens said if these substances were made illegal, his son would not have been able to get such easy access to them.
"Legal highs need to be banned throughout the country. People have to be aware this problem is everywhere, kids all over are taking these substances.
"Most towns have a shop that sells legal highs. There used to be a stall in Newtownards market that sold them, though it's not there any more.
"It's difficult to stop people from selling this, but it's killing the kids. It's making them mentally unstable."
His son Adam started taking legal highs with schoolfriends when he was 15, and was addicted to the substances for two years before his tragic death.
"The name legal high is a falsehood, as far as I'm concerned. These will kill you, and there's nothing legal about them in my view. Hopefully more towns will look at this case, and they'll be encouraged to do the same."
Mr Owens believes a lack of knowledge about the effects of legal highs also put his son at risk. Adam had been working with FASA, a drug addiction treatment centre.
He said: "There's nowhere you can go for help. Adam needed a pyschologist and counselling, and any kid who feels like they've got a problem needs to speak to someone.
"It was very hard for my son to speak to me.
"We didn't understand his addiction, but if he had spoken to me a bit more often, I may have understood it a bit more."
Confirming his client's intention to seek a full injunction, the barrister for Belfast City Council asked for an adjournment until after sentences are imposed at Belfast Magistrates' Court.
Mr Justice Deeny agreed to list the case for a further review in June.