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Man loses legal bid to get his pills back from police

By Alan Erwin

Published 23/09/2016

A Coleraine man who issued proceedings in a bid to force police to return so-called legal highs will not be getting the pills back, the Court of Appeal has ruled
A Coleraine man who issued proceedings in a bid to force police to return so-called legal highs will not be getting the pills back, the Court of Appeal has ruled

A Coleraine man who issued proceedings in a bid to force police to return so-called legal highs will not be getting the pills back, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Senior judges identified no general public policy grounds for a previous decision that 63 tablets seized from Cain McCarthy should be retained.

But they ruled that any return would result in further confiscation and disposal of the batch under new laws.

McCarthy (20), regarded by the PSNI as a "priority offender", was seeking to regain pills taken from him when he was stopped and searched in January 2014.

At least 38 of the tablets were analysed as being so-called legal highs, while others are believed to have been placebos.

McCarthy's lawyers argued he is the owner of substances that are lawful to possess.

With no prosecution brought over the incident which led to the seizure, they also contended that police could no longer justify retaining his property.

McCarthy was seeking to overturn decisions by two lower courts that he should not get the batch back. He insisted that the police refusal, based on concerns for his health and behaviour, breached his human rights.

He was said to have been under their influence during a separate incident in which an armed police response team was sent to his mother's house amid claims he had smashed up furniture and armed himself with a knife.

A County Court judge previously said it would be "utterly repugnant" to compel police to return dangerous products that have caused harm to McCarthy, his family and the community.

Ruling on the challenge, Lord Justice Weatherup noted that the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 - not in force when the lower courts dealt with the case - did not make it an offence to simply possess such a substance.

But the legislation contains powers of seizure and retention of legal highs if police reasonably believe they are to be taken for their psychoactive effects.

The judge said: "Accordingly, while recognising that there were no general public policy grounds for refusing the return of the items, as relied on by Her Honour (in the County Court), in the circumstances where the items are now liable to seizure and disposal by the police, we do not propose to take any step that would interfere with the order made by Her Honour."

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