Police carry out search warrant at St Albans store in hunt for formerly "legal highs"
PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 June 2016
Just three weeks after police officers welcomed a blanket ban on so-called 'legal highs' and tough new enforcement powers, a search warrant has been executed at a St Albans store.
However, a tip-off to St Albans Police about convenience chain store Londis, opposite Morrisons in Hatfield Road, failed to come to fruition as no psychoactive substances were found in an early morning search of the premises on Tuesday (14), despite allegations from members of the public.
Officers carried out ‘Operation Bifocal’ on Londis at about 7.15am, after a magistrate signed a warrant enabling them to look for suspected banned substances – among the first to be carried out in Herts since the ban was introduced.
Although they later emerged empty-handed from the low-key operation, Pc Shaun Woods said to reporters attending the scene: “It shows the public that we do act upon information. And I believe that when we have the intelligence, we should act upon it, after evaluating it. We want to the magistrate, as they deem whether a warrant is appropriate.”
Officers were to speak to employees at the store, to make them aware of the Psychoactive Substances Bill, introduced on May 26. The Herts Advertiser tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain comment from the store and Londis’s press representative on the police search.
The landmark bill is aimed at protecting young people from the dangers of new psychoactive substances, and stopping those who profit from their trade.
It bans any production, supply and importation or exportation for human consumption of potentially dangerous drugs which were linked to the deaths of 144 people in the UK in 2014 alone.
Among those welcoming the toughened stance is Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Adriano Russo, based in St Albans. He said that being “the ears and eyes of the neighbourhood” he and fellow PCSOs had personally seen the dreadful impact of such substances, particularly on local “street drinkers”.
PCSO Russo added: “They are very, very powerful substances. We have found people fitting and foaming at the mouth after taking them.”
He said that some mimicked the effects of cocaine and other hard drugs, and “for a lot of street drinkers in St Albans, it’s almost a cheaper alternative for them, compared to alcohol.
“But, sometimes when they take it, and it doesn’t seem to affect them straight away, they take more, and before you know it, they have overdosed.
“Until recently, people thought these substances were trendy to take, and they would buy them from shops. It was a complete misnomer to call them legal highs before the change in law, as they were often just a couple of elements away from being an illegal substance.
“So now, we can seize these, and prosecute people.”
The act provides a range of criminal and civil sanctions, including up to seven years for offenders – traders who profit from selling the drugs.