Court orders three-month closure of Sunderland city centre legal high shop

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A store which sold legal highs has been closed down by a court after police linked it to "extensive problems" caused by users.

A 48-hour closure was put in place on the Fawcett Street shop on Monday by Northumbria Police under the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Now, the force has gained a three-month closure order from Sunderland Magistrates' Court after it heard of a host of issues.

It previously traded as Hippydrome, but has operated with no name since it was taken over by Anthony Forster, 49, of Kingsway Square, Downhill.

He told District Judge Roger Elsey he had destroyed all the legal highs and had come to an agreement with the landlord to bring his lease to an early close at the end of this month.

Forster, who also sold gothic clothing and ornaments, said this would allow him to fulfil orders to clients,

He added problems were caused by alcoholics visiting an off licence in the area.

Force solicitor Hayley Hebb told the court: "There is the potential for a flash point for people, particularly young people, that use the shop for legal highs or ask people to go in and buy legal highs."

She added that even if the shop stopped stocking the legal highs, people who had not heard about the police's efforts would still go to the shop, causing an issue in the area.

Judge Elsey told Forster he could trade through eBay or other websites and backed the application by the force's chief constable.

He said he head heard of "extensive problems" through the statements submitted by the police,

He added: "It is clear from the evidence I have read that one, that the use of legal highs by young people in Sunderland is causing significant level of nuisance and disorder in Sunderland city centre.

"Two, that the use of legal highs is having a significant detrimental effect on the mental health of the people who purchasing legal highs.

"Thirdly, that the premises at 11 Fawcett Street has assisted in the distribution of legal highs."

Police comment on closure

Chief Inspector Jerry Pearson said: “We are fully aware of the impact antisocial behaviour has on our communities, at best it’s an annoyance but at worst it can cause people to feel frightened and we know substances such as these so called legal highs are a catalyst to anti-social behaviour.

“It is not right that our communities have had to put up with this and we have taken this action after listening to the concerns of people who live, work and visit the area and I hope they feel reassured that something has been done.

“We’re pleased that this order has been imposed and hope it acts as some form of reprieve to the local community.

“So called legal highs are far from safe, they contain harmful substances that are not meant for human consumption and can have serious and even fatal consequences. We take these incidents incredibly seriously and we will continue to work with our partners and utilise the powers we have to rid our streets of the substances.”

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird, said: “I have been a long-term campaigner on this issue, repeatedly raising the issue with the Home Secretary, pressing for a ban and for strong action against those who sell such products.

“We cannot, nor should we, tolerate the sale of New Psychoactive Substances on our streets and so I am very pleased to see firm action is being taken in Sunderland.

“Local residents can rest assured this is a top priority for me and I will ensure officers do everything within their power to get those selling these substances before the courts so we can prevent people getting addicted to them and putting their lives at risk.”

Chair of the Safer Sunderland Partnership, Councillor Harry Trueman welcomed the action adding: “Community safety partners work closely together across the city to enforce legislation and prosecute where possible, in order to protect people from any harmful effects from these potentially lethal substances.

“The availability of ‘legal highs’ on sale in certain shops or across the internet is a national problem, one which we take very seriously. I welcome today’s decision as work such as this continues to keep Sunderland as one of the safest cities in the North.

“There is a range of support available across the city for people affected by substance misuse. These provide advice, information, support and access to treatment services, If anyone has concerns about themselves, friends or family I encourage them to contact the service on the freephone number 0800 234 6798.”