Addicts hooked on so-called legal highs are resorting to stealing from Larne town centre shops to fund their deadly habit, traders have claimed.
Larne Traders’ Forum has urged local businesses to be vigilant against what has been described as a “worrying increase” in shoplifting in the town in recent weeks.
And there are concerns that the surge in thefts is directly connected to the ongoing problem of legal high substances in the town.
Chairman of Larne Traders Forum, John Shannon, told the Times that businesses, particularly in the Main Street area, are suffering as a result.
He added: “The availability of these legal highs in Larne is attracting a very unsavoury and undesirable element to the town.
“In a bid to feed their addiction to these substances, some people are stealing from local shops and selling on the items.”
Mr Shannon also claimed that some shoplifters have even attempted to sell their stolen goods to local charity shops.
“Several traders have seen a sharp jump in the levels of shoplifting recently,” he said.
“We are not talking about a few items here and there; quite a lot of stock has been pilfered, including one incident where £500 worth of perfume was stolen.
“It has become a major problem for local traders, who are already facing enough difficulties as it is.”
Mr Shannon encouraged town centre businesses to take extra precautions against crime.
And he felt there is currently “no real deterrent” for thieves due to a “lack of police presence” in the town.
A special meeting was held between traders and the PSNI in Larne Town Hall last Thursday to discuss the issue of shoplifting.
Mr Shannon said: “We made it clear to police that they need to take a more pro-active approach and have a higher profile in Larne.
“Many people feel that, ever since the PSNI’s 999 response team was relocated to Ballymena, there has been a distinct lack of police presence in Larne.
“That needs to change or else this problem will continue.
“A regular police foot patrol in Larne town centre area would make a big difference.”
Councillor Gregg McKeen, who was also present at the meeting in the Town Hall, told the Times: “This is yet another example of how the scourge of legal highs is damaging our town.
“Traders need to be on the lookout for these thieves, who will go to great lengths to fund their habit.
“I would also call on police to be more visible in the town centre to help tackle this growing problem.”