Commendations for Northamptonshire officers for closing down a shopkeeper who ‘advised kids how to get high’

Officer from the alcohol reduction team with Chief Constable Adrian Lee
Officer from the alcohol reduction team with Chief Constable Adrian Lee

Ten police officers whose operation closed down a legal high ‘head shop’ run by a Desborough man have today received commendations.

The alcohol reduction team’s investigation into the Misty Haze shop in The Drapery, Northampton, eventually led to it being shut down and its owner, James Johnstone, convicted of five counts of supplying intoxicating substances to under-18s.

Last September, he was sentenced to three months in custody, suspended for two years, an 18-month supervision order and 120 hours unpaid work.

A further case - developed by DC Gareth Askew using the Proceeds of Crime Act - led to the courts seizing almost £29,000 from Johnstone through a confiscation order.

Insp Vaughan Clarke, who led the investigation team, said: “It was apparent Johnstone was completely indiscriminate in who he sold these substances to. Indeed our intelligence suggests he was advising children on how to get high.

“The team showed great tenacity and professionalism running a series of complex test-purchase operations using un-chaperoned minors equipped with real-time-monitored video. In addition there was the subsequent construction of a complex case at court.

“Other jurisdictions have struggled to find ways to tackle the sale of legal-highs in their communities. But the innovative approach taken in Northampton has generated Home Office interest and resulted in the closure of a shop that was causing significant harm to young people and allowed the confiscation of the assets of the criminal at the heart of this operation.”

Concerns about the shop had come to light in early 2013 when a number of teenagers arrived at Northampton General Hospital with psychotic episodes, one of whom was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for several weeks for treatment.

Detectives teamed up with Northamptonshire County Council Trading Standards to carry out a series of test purchase operations in October 2013, which ultimately led to Johnstone’s conviction.

While legislation around legal highs is being tightened up by the Government with its proposals in the Queen’s Speech to introduce a blanket ban, the Misty Haze investigation required officers to use one of the few available laws at the time, Section 1 of the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985, which outlaws the supply to a person aged under 18 of an intoxicating substance for inhalation.

Speaking at Wednesday’s presentation, Chief Constable Adrian Lee said: “I have nothing but praise for everyone involved in this very challenging operation, young people were being put at serious risk of harm and needed to be protected from supposedly legal substances.

“I have recognised the officers involved in the operation because they removed that harm through careful use of legislation, in an innovative operation that has received considerable interest from other forces.”

The Home Office has now included this example within their guidance to other forces on tackling legal highs.