Ipswich shop owner spared jail over sale of potentially harmful ‘legal highs’

Ipswich Crown Court.

Ipswich Crown Court. - Credit: Archant

An Ipswich shopkeeper who sold “legal highs” with labelling which failed to give customers information about the use and risks of taking them has been given a community order.

Rodney Debenham

Rodney Debenham - Credit: Archant

Rodney Debenham, 47, director of New Dawn Ltd and Herbaljoy.co.uk.ltd in Eagle Street, Ipswich, showed a “reckless disregard and lack of care” in the labelling of what were described as potentially harmful products, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

Debenham admitted two offences of engaging in a misleading commercial practice in September 2014 at an earlier beating which was adjourned for a pre-sentence report.

The offences relate to the labelling of a psychoactive substance called “Meadow Sweet” in relation to the usage, composition and risks of the product.

Debenham was given a one year community order and ordered to do 180 hours unpaid work in the community.

Sentencing him Judge Martyn Levett said:”It is a misnomer to call them “legal highs” because they are not legal and they are not safe.”

He said legislation passed in May this year made it a serious criminal offence to supply or be in possession of them but accepted the offences admitted by Debenham dated back to 2014.

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Cameron Crowe, prosecuting, said the case concerned the production and distribution of psychoactive substances known as “legal highs” which were chemically created to mimic the effects of cannabis.

He said the offences related to a test purchase of “Meadow Sweet” by a test purchase officer in September 2014.

He said Trading Standards officers had previously liaised with Debenham in an effort to control the sales of products they considered to be unsafe and in breach of consumer protection legislation.

He said the packaging of the items indicated they were herbal incense and research chemicals and weren’t for human consumption.

Mr Crowe said it was clear the items were for human consumption but the labelling did not give any information about the dosage, use and risks of taking the product.

He said there was “a reckless disregard and lack of care” in labelling products which were potentially harmful.

He said that prior to legislation in May this year legal highs hadn’t been the subject of specific legislation and Trading Standards had sought to prevent them being sold by consumer protection from unfair trading regulations.

He said Trading Standards had taken the decision to prosecute Debenham because there had been uncertainty as to when the new legislation would come into effect.

Matthew McNiff for Debenham said people going to his client’s shop and buying the products would have known what they were buying and wouldn’t have necessarily read the “minutiae” on the labelling.

He said the investigation by Suffolk Trading Standards, which started at the end of 2015, had cost £24,000 and had been undertaken just months before the new legislation concerning legal highs was introduced.

He said Debenham had co-operated with trading standards officers and had let them have a sample for analysis and had agreed not to sell the product for a period.

“He wasn’t playing fast and loose. He was co-operating and listening to advice.” said Mr McNiff.