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Lout gets legal aid to fight for return of his legal high drugs

By Deborah McAleese

Published 28/06/2016

A serial offender and prolific drug user will go to Northern Ireland's highest court today as part of a legal battle to force the Chief Constable to hand back drugs seized from him by police
A serial offender and prolific drug user will go to Northern Ireland's highest court today as part of a legal battle to force the Chief Constable to hand back drugs seized from him by police

A serial offender and prolific drug user will go to Northern Ireland's highest court today as part of a legal battle to force the Chief Constable to hand back drugs seized from him by police.

Coleraine man Cain McCarthy, who is regarded by the PSNI as a "priority offender", is using publicly-funded legal aid in his bid to secure the return of 63 so-called legal high tablets.

Police seized the pills amid concern over his health and offending habits.

However, McCarthy claimed that his right to "peaceful enjoyment of possessions" under human rights legislation had been breached.

He also claimed that because the drugs were legal highs, there was no legal basis for refusing to return them.

This is the third time that McCarthy has mounted a legal challenge to have the drugs returned, at a cost of several thousand pounds.

Policing Board member Nelson McCausland said he believed the case was a "bizarre waste of public money".

"Questions have to be asked over the awarding of legal aid in cases such as this," the DUP MLA added.

"Is this really what the public want their money spent on, especially at a time when the Justice budget is under considerable pressure?

"We live in a world where human rights arguments have gone mad. There are legitimate and reasonable concerns about human rights issues in our society, but on the other hand human rights arguments have been used and abused."

McCarthy has been arrested on numerous occasions for drugs-related offences since 2010.

On one occasion an armed response team had to be sent to his mother's house after he smashed up items of furniture and armed himself with a knife while under the influence of legal highs and other substances. Days later, while on bail for criminal damage, he was found to be "highly intoxicated" through legal highs - in breach of his bail conditions.

Police seized the tablets from McCarthy in January 2014 amid concerns over his health and criminal behaviour.

He was found in possession of the 63 tablets after he was stopped and searched by officers who then arrested him on suspicion of possession of drugs. Analysis of the tablets revealed they were legal highs, which are not prohibited under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

After the Public Prosecution Service directed against taking a case, McCarthy launched legal proceedings for the return of the drugs, stating that because they were legal highs the police should not be able to retain them. He also claimed his human rights had been breached.

His case for the return of the drugs is due to be heard by the Court of Appeal in Belfast today.

The hearing follows a refusal by two previous courts - North Antrim Magistrates Court and Belfast County Court - to order the return of the tablets.

In October County Court Judge Patricia Smyth ruled that it would be "utterly repugnant to compel the police to return dangerous products which have caused harm" to McCarthy, his family and the community. Judge Smyth added: "There is overwhelming evidence in this case that the appellant has caused harm to himself and to others whilst under the influence of legal highs.

"The appellant is a young person whose prolific offending has now resulted in him becoming subject to the police reducing offending unit.

"It is part of the function of this unit to identify particular triggers for offending in order to achieve rehabilitation. The use of legal highs has been identified as a trigger in this case.

"There is no benefit to the appellant in having these substances returned.

"I consider that this case falls within one of the narrow public policy exceptions which justifies the police withholding the appellant's property."

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