Hoax device causes major disruption in Larne town centre as businesses evacuated

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Police and politicians have condemned those behind a security alert which saw parts of the town centre sealed off on Monday, October 12.

The alert began shortly after midday, when police received a report of a suspicious device at the back of a business premises in the Dunluce Street area.

Officers sealed off the scene and Upper Main Street, Dunluce Street, Lower Cross Street and High Street were closed to traffic, with motorists advised to avoid the area.

Businesses inside the cordon were evacuated and a number of residents were also forced to leave their homes for a time.

The device was declared a hoax by Army bomb experts and the alert ended at about 5.30pm.

Although police did not confirm it, the Times understands the device was discovered in the vicinity of the Northern Lights Hydroponics shop, which is known to sell so-called legal highs.

Larne police commander, Chief Inspector Stephen McCauley said: “Police acted quickly to keep people safe and away from the suspicious object.

“The lives of local people have been disrupted and I lay the blame on those who planted the hoax device. Their actions are irresponsible and show disregard for the local community.

“I would like to thank the people of Larne for their patience as police and Ammunition Technical Officers addressed the situation.

“Hoax devices can be very realistic and similar in look to the real thing. Where there is a clear threat to life, police must take action to keep people safe.”

In the wake of the security alert, dozens of angry people took to Facebook to vent their frustrations – many of which appeared to be aimed at the Northern Lights.

One poster on Larne PSNI’s Facebook page said: “Think it’s time for this shop to be shut down.Someone somewhere must know on how to get it closed down.”

Another wrote: “What will it take to get rid off this shop? Will it take a child to lift the full packets that are left lying around the town,to open it put it in their mouth,swallow it and die?”

Responding to the comments on social media, CI McAuley said: “Your frustration is understandable. Police powers only apply when the product is illegal, but police will support other agencies in making checks.”

He added: “The people who make devices or hoax devices pose comparable problems in our communities.”

Meanwhile, Larne Councillor Gregg McKeen also condemned those behind the incident and said: “In these tough economic times, every penny is valuable to traders, especially with the Christmas season fast approaching.

“For businesses to lose most of a day’s trade is unacceptable, and I am calling on whoever is responsible to think about the damage this sort of thing causes, both on the local economy and on the image of the town.

“I am also urging people not to take the law into their own hands. I know people are frustrated that this shop is able to sell these legal highs.

“But planting hoax devices will not get us anywhere and only serves to inflict inconvenience and disruption on the wider community.”

East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson added: “Those behind this hoax have brought disruption to Larne and wasted valuable police resources.

“Those responsible have created fear in the local community and should face justice. I would urge anybody with information about this incident to contact the PSNI.”

The Larne Times spoke to the owner of the Northern Lights, who said the business was closed on Monday and had not been affected by the alert.

He did not wish to comment further.