Belfast Telegraph

Little shop of horrors: Undercover footage of the innocent-looking Larne shop peddling potentially lethal drugs

By Christopher Woodhouse

This is the innocent-looking shop that is peddling potentially lethal drugs to young people from across Northern Ireland.

Northern Lights in Larne calls itself an “indoor gardening store”, but is doing a roaring trade in “legal highs”.

The chemicals are copies of illegal drugs that give users the same hit, but have formulas tweaked to get around the UK’s anti-drugs laws.

Teenagers from as far afield as Omagh and Dungannon are known to have beaten a path to the door of Northern Lights, on a quiet side street of the County Antrim town.

The shop, which advertises online, freely sells packets of Magic Dragon, a highly addictive type of synthetic cannabis, and Pink Panther pills, which are said to mimic the effect of ecstasy.

Sunday Life was able to buy packets of Magic Dragon and Pink Panther for just £8.75 each.

Northern Lights sits on a quiet side street, just yards from the Larne’s main shopping street.

But security is tight for an “indoor gardening store” — CCTV camera above the front door and customers must press a button high on the door frame to be let into the shop.

RAIDED

Inside is crammed with plants growing in synthetic soil, but the owners are cultivating another line of business.

We secretly filmed as the shop assistant went to the back of the shop to fetch the drugs.

Since 2009 officially three people in Northern Ireland have died as a direct result of taking so-called legal highs, which are sold as baths salts, plant food or research chemicals and marked as not fit for human consumption.

The authorities have attempted to crack down on the shop, but have had to use labelling |legislation.

The shop was raided last month by officers from Larne Borough Council's environmental health service, who seized 550 packets of legal highs including Magic Dragon, Pink Panthers and another called Bullets.

But just weeks later, the brazen establishment is back in business with young people using the easy bus and train links to Larne to visit the store.

Some have been seen with rucksacks to carry quantities of the drugs home.

Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan said Larne had enough to deal with, as paramilitaries had already flooded the town with illegal drugs.

WEAKNESS

He told Sunday Life: “This can't be allowed to go on, speaking for the constituency that I represent, we have got to protect children here.

“These people selling the legal highs are preying on young people's weaknesses.

“I've been told that people from all over Northern Ireland are coming to this one shop in Larne.

“There are hundreds going through this shop every week.”

He added: “Larne Council should now be going down the same road as Belfast City Council because Belfast has been very successful in dealing with legal highs.”

Mr McMullan also pledged that the issue of legal highs would be the first item of business he would raise when the assembly reconvenes next week.

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said: “I’m aware of the difficulties that are being caused by the sale of legal highs in the Larne area.

“Young people from as far away as Belfast and Ballymena have been gravitating to this store which is selling goods which can have an adverse effect on their heath.

VIGILANT

“This is also contributing to anti-social and criminal behaviour both in the town and on public transport.

“Those who risk their lives in taking these substances don’t |appear to be fully aware of the risks associated.

“It’s important that the council, the police and public representatives do all we can to try to assist in protecting them.

“Those profiting from this trade appear to have no |conscience and are no better than the people who peddle illegal drugs in my opinion.”

Sinn Fein councillor James McKeown called on parents to be vigilant.

He told Sunday Life: “Before the summer holidays we were getting reports of young children, of secondary school age, trying to get on buses and being completely stoned out of their heads and it was obvious they were at this shop.

TESTED

“When it reopened a couple of weeks ago, there were about 30 people hanging around this shop at around half past seven in the morning and they were not local people.”

Councillor McKeown added that he would be raising the issue of the legal high problem at the next meeting of the council.

When Sunday Life called at the shop yesterday staff refused to comment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “We have to be clear, just because these substances are marketed as ‘legal’, it does not mean that they are safe.

“In many cases, such products may not even be actually legal as when tested many have been found to contain a range of substances that have already been banned, including Class A and B drugs.”

They went on to say that health minister Edwin Poots had raised the issue of legal highs with the Home Secretary and that a review of current drug laws, which date from the 1970s, was under way.

“Should the Home Office response not be robust enough, then the issue will be re-visited, with the potential of bringing forward local legislation,” they said.

The department also urged councils to follow the lead of Belfast City Council which took action against head shops using the General Product Safety Regulations.

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