Landmark conviction in Leeds ‘legal highs’ campaign

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The proprietor of a Leeds market stall has been convicted over the sale of so-called ‘legal highs’ in the first case of its kind in the country.

Hamayun Parwani, aged 37, of Old Farm Cross, Leeds, was found guilty of selling an intoxicating substance to a person under the age of 18 years under Section 1 of the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985 following a trial at Leeds Magistrates Court today (15/7). He was sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge.

The case comes as part of an ongoing campaign to target the psychoactive substances - which are manufactured as chemical substitutes for illegal drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy - and to raise awareness of the health risks associated with them. The initiative is being led by the city’s community safety partnership Safer Leeds.

Parwani was arrested in January as part of an operation by West Yorkshire Police drugs specialists and officers from the City Neighbourhood Policing Team which focused on so-called ‘head shops’ which had been given earlier warnings about selling to under-18s.

While officers were observing the stall, Wendy’s Smoking Accessories, in Kirkgate Market, member of staff Kebba Kujabi was seen selling a synthetic form of cannabis to a 16-year-old boy. Kujabi admitted the offence when he appeared at court in April and was given a conditional discharge.

Parwani, who was present at the time the sale was made, pleaded not guilty on the basis that he himself did not sell the item to the boy. At his trial, the prosecution successfully argued that as Kujabi’s employer he was legally responsible for his employee’s actions in the course of his employment.

Chief Superintendent Paul Money, Commander of City & Holbeck Division, said: “This is a landmark conviction which represents a real step forward in our ongoing campaign to target the trade in these substances.

“We remain very concerned that so-called ‘legal highs’ are being sold openly in the city and on the internet and that this makes some people, particularly the young, feel they can take them without risk. Just because they can be bought legally, it doesn’t mean they are safe for people to take.

“Experts tell us that most of these synthetic compounds have no real research or testing behind them and are put together in laboratories abroad with the main aim being to circumvent existing drugs legislation and maximise their profits.

“There have been a number of cases both locally and nationally where these substances have been linked to deaths and people being taken to hospital seriously ill. We are determined to do all we can to limit the potential risks they present to people and honour our commitment to keep people safe in our communities.

“The people who trade in these substances operate on the margins of legality and this case should clearly demonstrate to them the approach we will be continuing to take to ensure that they are operating within the regulations.”

Police and partner agencies joined forces under the Safer Leeds banner in December last year to launch the campaign to target so-called ‘legal highs’ and raise awareness of the health risks associated with taking these substances.

At the same time high street ‘head shops’ that trade in these products in the city were warned they would find themselves under an increased focus by the authorities to ensure they were complying with the regulations governing the sale of these items.

The campaign, which has been funded by money taken from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act, includes the distribution of advertising and marketing material across the city alongside a programme of awareness-raising visits to schools, colleges and universities.

This work has been highlighting the health risks associated with taking ‘legal highs’ that include breathing difficulties, heart palpitations, paranoia, psychosis, hallucinations, coma, seizures and death.

Officers have also been working with city licensees to distribute literature in pubs, clubs and bars.

Anyone who wants information, help and advice about drugs can contact confidential helpline service FRANK, by calling 0800 77 66 00, texting 82111, or visiting www.talktofrank.com

Leeds Club Drug Clinic also offers help and advice for people with problems related to ‘party drugs’. Further information is available on their website http://leedsclubdrugclinic.com/