Published: 11:00, 07 July 2014
Widespread raids have been carried out across the county today at shops suspected of selling legal highs.
Officers from Kent County Council’s trading standards and police have targeted up to 14 stores in surprise visits from as far afield as Canterbury, Maidstone and Gravesend.
It is part of efforts to stamp out the substances and the dangers they pose - after the KM Group mounted a campaign to crack down on their sale.
It follows a letter sent recently by the department to all stores suspected of selling the legal drugs, with the potential to kill. It called on them to stop selling legal highs.
It also explained how they are designed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs, and have so far caused at least one death in Kent.
Mark Rolfe, KCC’s trading standards manager helped lead today's raids, which we joined.
He said: “We think that the products that they’re selling are so-called legal highs which we want to call ‘lethal highs’.
“They are on sale to the public, they’re easy to buy in high street shops, they’re very dangerous and we want to stop them being supplied in Kent.”
He added: “Other parts of the country, including Northern Ireland, have been to shops of this type and have carried out similar kind of work to the work we’re doing in Kent.
“The courts in Northern Ireland have accepted that these products are dangerous. We don’t see why the residents of Kent should have any lower protection.”
At Third Eye in Canterbury "a reasonable quantity of legal highs" was said to have been found on the premises.
Some will be taken for testing while the rest of the stock will be sealed and kept inside but cannot be sold.
In Ashford, two police officers and a member of Kent County Council's trading standards raided the UK Skunkworks shop in Ashford.
The trio entered the premises in Bank Street at 11am and spoke with the shop assistant, checked stock and snapped pictures of the paraphernalia.
Officers spent nearly two hours in the store. A total of 36 different varieties of products were confiscated. They will now be tested by trading standards.
Any banned stock will be confiscated.
Around 40 products were seized from Skunkworks in Maidstone.
The Mill Street shop had several bags of herbal incense blends confiscated, including ones with names like Go Caine and Synthacaine.
Bags of herbal extracts, with the packets describinf their psychoactive effects, were also taken.
Samples of all the substances found throughout Kent have now been taken away for testing and, depending on the results, the team will apply to the courts to have them destroyed before taking further action.
Meanwhile in Medway, trading standards officers and police today raided a store thought to have sold the New Psychoactive Substances – or legal highs – and took away samples of products on sale.
Last month the UK Skunkworks and Dark Times stores, in Chatham and Little Dorrit shop in Rochester, were served with letters from Trading Standards warning them they may be operating outside of the law.
It's believed Dark Times and Little Dorrit complied with the letter.
Medway Council said it believes existing consumer laws could be used to stop legal highs being sold.
It would be the first time in Britain that this area of the law would be tested and would force sellers to clearly display all ingredients on packets or face prosecution.
In total, more than a dozen stores across Kent which are either selling, believed to be selling or have sold legal highs in the past, were targeted this morning by Trading Standards officers from Medway Council, Kent County Council and Kent Police and had items removed.
Legal highs bypass drug laws by being sold as 'not for human consumption' and are often advertised as plant food or research chemicals.
They are designed to flout drug rules by possessing chemical compositions that differ from those already prohibited but are able to mimic the effects of other drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy.
Ian Gilmore, Medway Council Trading Standards Officer, said: “We want the shops to know that we are prepared to take robust enforcement action to ensure they are operating within the law.
“These are not legal highs, they are lethal highs.”
Medway Council believes these products fall under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 which prohibit any unsafe product from being supplied.
Today’s operation gathered evidence to see if the shops are following the new guidance.
If they are not, the council could seek court action to see the items withdrawn from sale and ultimately force the shop’s closure.
Speaking after the visits, Karen Audino, whose son Jimmy Guichard, 20, died after taking synthetic cannabis believed to have been bought in a shop in Chatham, said she welcomed the move.
She said: “Anything that protects people and stops families like mine from being torn apart by these so called legal highs is a good thing.
“I don’t believe any of these products are safe and now that Medway Council is telling these shops that they must operate within the law I hope it will go some way to forcing their closure.
“My son’s life just slipped away and that is something I want no other mother to have to go through.
“It’s terrible that people can just go into a shop and buy these products as easily as sweets or a newspaper and I hope the action taken today will help put an end to these awful products.
“They destroy lives and destroy families.”
Figures show, across the UK, 68 deaths were linked to the use of legal highs in 2012.
The action follows the launch of the KM Group’s High Time campaign in January.
It followed the death of one Gravesend youngster from what's believed to be legal highs, one Canterbury teenager had a heart attack after taking the substances, and three Ashford teenagers were hospitalised after buying the drugs.
It was created to help raise awareness of the risks posed by the substances while also calling for plain packaging to replace the bright colours and bold graphics which are often used.
The High Time campaign has also seen KCC’s trading standards call for drastic changes to ensure they can take action to protect people.
But the issue is ultimately in the hands of the government.
A review is under way, which could lead to sweeping changes to the UK’s drug laws.
Earlier this year the KM Group handed over its dossier of evidence gathered during the High Time campaign to government minister Norman Baker for consideration as part of the review.
Video: Raids on stores suspected of selling legal highs
He is due to announce the outcome later in the summer.
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