Legal highs ‘to blame’ for Larne shoplifting surge

Councillor Gregg McKeen

Councillor Gregg McKeen

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Addicts hooked on so-called legal highs are to blame for a massive rise in shoplifting offences in Larne over the past year, it has been claimed.

Recent figures provided by the Department of Justice revealed that the number of incidents more than doubled over the period April 2014 to April 2015, from 60 to 122.

Meanwhile, cases of domestic burglary also shot up from 53 to 75 in the same period, a rise of over 40 per cent.

And Larne Lough Councillor Gregg McKeen, who sits on the Mid and East Antrim Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP), has attributed the hike in thefts to new psychoactive substances, more commonly referred to as legal highs.

The DUP man claimed addicts hooked on these substances are resorting to stealing from Larne town centre shops and even people’s homes to fund their deadly habit.

Cllr McKeen told the Times: “These new crime figures are very concerning, and I firmly believe that legal highs are a significant factor in the substantial rise in both shoplifting and domestic burglaries.

“People who are addicted to these substances are always on the look out for their next fix and commit these crimes as a means to fuel their drug habit.”

Cllr McKeen also claimed that criminals in the Larne area had become “emboldened” by the relocation of the PSNI’s emergency response team to Ballymena.

He added: “I have been opposed to the PSNI’s Service First policy from the beginning, as it removed vital resources from Larne.

“I welcome the plan to introduce a new Local Policing Team in the Larne area, as it will bring more officers into the town.”

Speaking about the shoplifting figures, the new policing commander for Mid and East Antrim, Supt Ryan Henderson said: “It is difficult to attribute this rise to one particular issue, but it does mirror an overall increase in shoplifting across Northern Ireland.

“Larne officers have worked with local retailers across the year to improve crime prevention measures.”

The latest crime stats revealed a total rise of about seven per cent in all crime in the Larne area over the past year, including a 36 per cent rise in sexual offences, and an increase of 25 in drug related offences.

Conversely, criminal damage offences dropped by 10 per cent in the same period, and there was a 15 per cent decline in possession of offensive weapons.