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Teen who had 'legal highs' seized by police fails in court bid to have pills returned

By Alan Erwin

Published 28/09/2015

A teenager who had so-called legal highs seized by police has failed in a court bid to have the pills returned.

 Even though his lawyers argued that he should get his property back, a judge in Belfast ruled it was an exceptional case which justified the substances being withheld.

 She noted his history of aggressive behaviour and threatening to self-harm while under their influence in the past.

 Her Honour Judge Smyth said:  In my view, it would be utterly repugnant to compel the police to return dangerous products which have caused harm to the appellant, members of his family and the community in which he lives."

 The teenager at the centre of the case mounted an appeal after being denied the return of legal highs seized by the police in January 2014.

 He had been arrested on suspicious of having drugs after being found in possession of 63 tablets.

 With further analysis revealing the presence of so-called legal highs, a decision was taken not to prosecute him.

 At the time the appellant was regarded as a "priority offender" within the PSNI's Reducing Offending Unit.

 Belfast County Court heard that between 2010 and 2014 he was detained for incidents while under the influence of legal highs, prescription drugs, aerosols and alcohol.

 On one occasion his behaviour resulted in a police armed response team being tasked to his mother's home. 

 He had smashed furniture and took a knife to his bedroom, threatening to cut his wrists.

 Following the decision not to prosecute, the PSNI sought court authority to retain the substances.

 Despite accepting they no longer had power to hold onto the tablets, police expressed public policy concerns regarding the health risks associated with the ingestion of legal highs.

 Following a separate application by the appellant, the case ended up before Judge Smyth.

 It was contended that the refusal to return the tablets was unlawful and in breach of a European Convention of Human Rights provision that there should be no punishment without law. 

 Lawyers argued that there was no legal basis for refusing to return the pills since possession of legal highs is not contrary to criminal law.

 But Judge Smyth pointed to the dangerous effects of the substances, saying there was overwhelming evidence that the appellant has caused harm to himself and to others whilst under the their influence.

 "The appellant is a young person whose prolific offending has resulted in him becoming subject to the police reducing offending unit," she said in a ruling delivered earlier this month but only now published.

 " The use of legal highs has been identified as a trigger in this case."

 Dismissing the appeal, she added: "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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