Drug users brought to book as Belfast shop cracks down on drug addicts in toilets
A leading Belfast book store has had to introduce special lighting in a bid to stop people taking drugs in its toilets.
Waterstone's in Fountain Street has installed fluorescent tubes emitting purple ultra-violet light as a deterrence to addicts shooting up.
Similar measures have been used in other UK cities - in nightclubs, bars, service stations and stores.
It is the latest attempt to address a growing problem with substance abuse in Belfast city centre. The UV light prevents veins from showing up and is effective in deterring drug-injecting users.
Waterstone's Belfast manager said the decision to fit the lights in the male toilets of the busy store, close to City Hall, was taken some months ago in response to a "small number of incidents" last summer.
The issue was raised by a customer who, puzzled by the strange glow in the toilets, contacted this newspaper.
Peter Gray remarked on "the bizarre lighting" after a recent visit to the bookshop.
The 50-year-old radio technician said the "strange purplish glow" and "eerie twilight" was a "wholly unpleasant experience", which left him "feeling dizzy and with a headache".
"When I went into the male toilets I moved around to try and activate the light but there was only this dim ultra-violet gloom like you'd see on a dance floor," he said.
"To be honest, when I went to wash my hands there wasn't even enough light to distinguish between the hot and cold taps, never mind to make sure one had left the place clean for the next user.
"My eyesight is reasonably good but for someone with impaired vision, or elderly, the experience, I assume, would be even more challenging."
Mr Gray said he believed undesirable activity could be curbed by hiring toilet attendants.
"That's the old-fashioned, tried and tested technology; lighting can't discriminate between who it is and isn't meant to deter," he said.
"The modern solution is also anti-social because it's one less job available for, for example, a retired person who would appreciate a small extra income and the opportunity for passing conversation.
"I wouldn't object if I had to pay 50p or £1 to use the toilets; it would be cheaper than the cost of the coffee I felt obliged to buy in order to justify access, even though I am a regular Waterstone's customer."
Former Belfast mayor Jim Rodgers said toilet attendants should be employed in premises across the city centre to combat anti-social behaviour and the "worsening drugs problem".
"People are dying from drugs, they're being hospitalised; and we need to act now and I firmly believe people are the answer to this problem, not lights," he said.
The store manager said the lighting serves as a precautionary measure and gives additional protection to the digilocks on the toilet doors, which preclude entry to users without the required code.
"It's a well-known fact that there have been problems with anti-social behaviour in the city centre and Fountain Street area and this is how we've responded after taking advice from the PSNI and other agencies, as well as our health and safety team," she said.
"We didn't particularly want to put ultra-violet lights in the toilets but that's what we've done to protect the health and safety of customers, which is our main concern and of paramount importance."
A police spokesman said the use of fluorescent lighting was "amongst the advice offered in order to try and design a cut in this type of activity".
In November this newspaper revealed a 1,470% rise in call-outs to remove drug paraphernalia from public areas in Belfast - from 42 to 661 - in three years.