Police raided a shop suspected of peddling so-called ‘legal highs’ – a day after a landmark prosecution against another trader for selling goods he knew would be used to take drugs.
Officers seized a range of items from Dr Hermans on Vicar Lane in Leeds city centre on Saturday.
The goods included substances suspected to be the subject of temporary bans.
The morning swoop, which happened at the same time as a similar shop was being raided in Bradford, was part of an ongoing crackdown on the harm caused by legal highs.
Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Knopwood, head of protective services for West Yorkshire Police, said: “We remain very concerned that so-called ‘legal highs’ are being sold openly in our high streets and elsewhere, particularly given that this can make young people think they are something that they can take without risk.
“Nationally, we are seeing an increase in deaths and hospital admissions linked to the use of these substances and locally we have seen similar cases. The trade is largely unregulated and tends to operate on the fringes of the law.
“The government is currently looking at tightening existing legislation to combat the issue but in the meantime we remain determined to do all we can to limit the risks and keep people safe in our communities.”
Officers gathered for a briefing at Millgarth police station before Saturday’s operation, during which they were told that they were looking for psychoactive substances that replicate the effects of banned drugs.
Many legal highs being sold are chemically modified versions of already banned substances.
Dr Hermans – which describes itself as a ‘head shop’, selling tobacco paraphernalia – was suspected of selling a particular substance called Fury Xtreme, which is marketed as a ‘research chemical’.
A team of eight officers spent about three hours searching the shop and speaking to staff after executing a warrant under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The shop was closed while investigations were carried out.
The seized substances will undergo forensic testing with a view to bringing court prosecutions.
West Yorkshire Police has been campaigning against legal highs in conjunction with the city council and health organisations.
The campaign was prompted by concerns about new substances which are manufactured as chemical substitutes for illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.
There is growing evidence that they can cause serious illness and, in extreme cases, even death.
Last year a Kirkgate Market stall owner and one of his staff were convicted over the sale of so-called ‘legal highs’ in the first case of its kind in the country.
Saturday’s raids, during which Barkers store in Bradford was also targeted, followed a Leeds Magistrates’ Court case on Friday against the owner of the Fantasia shop in Leeds for selling equipment that would be used by drug-takers.
Hassan Abbas, boss of the Ludgate Hill store in the city centre, was found guilty at Leeds Magistrates’ Court of supplying articles used to administer or prepare controlled drugs.
The court heard goods including bongs, plastic bags and grinders – all decorated with cannabis leaf motifs – were sold from the store.
While it is not illegal to sell the items in themselves, prosecutor Robert Campbell argued that Abbas and fellow defendant, shop assistant Owen Allerton, would have known that they would be used by cannabis smokers. Mr Campbell said: “Each of them knew very well that the primary purpose was the taking of cannabis.”
Abbas, 33, of Congreve Way, Bardsey, claimed the symbols on the products were either hemp leaves or Japanese maple leaves.
Allerton, 28, of Holtdale Garth, Cookridge, also denied knowingly supplying goods for drug use.
Both were found guilty after trial.
Abbas was fined £800 and ordered to pay £520 costs and a victim surcharge of £80. Allerton was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay £100 in costs with a £15 victim surcharge.
The court ordered that goods seized be destroyed.
Det Chief Supt Knopwood added: “This latest operational activity – alongside a further landmark conviction – demonstrates our ongoing commitment to being innovative in the way we target the trade in these substances.”
The Home Affairs Select Committee has praised West Yorkshire Police’s use of existing drug legislation and is writing to every police and crime commissioner in the country to encourage similar initiatives.