Legal-high store damaged in arson attack

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 05/04/2014
molotv
JOHN HAWKINS / Fairfax NZ

MOLOTOV MESS: Fire services southern region fire safety officer Stuart Ide and Constable Graeme King investigate the fire at Impuls'd in Invercargill.

warren skill
NEIL RATLEY / Fairfax NZ
'THIS WON'T STOP ME': Constable Graeme King talks to Impuls'd owner Warren Skill after the firebombing.

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The owner of a legal-high shop in Invercargill torched with a molotov cocktail is adamant it will not stop him running his business.

Two people were caught on security footage using a baseball bat to smash the front window of Impuls'd in the southo f the city before throwing a molotov cocktail into the shop.

Constable Graeme King, of Invercargill, said one person smashed the shop window and another threw a molotov-cocktail-type object into the shop early yesterday morning.

Police were still investigating the intentions of those behind the arson attack, he said.

Impuls'd owner Warren Skill said it did not appear the offenders were looking to steal anything from the shop.

"They just smashed the window with a baseball bat, threw in the molotov cocktail and f..ked off." He believed the culprit had been trying to shut him down.

If the offenders were anti-legal highs, they were "hypocrites" and he believed his business should be no more a target than a bottle shop would be.

"This won't stop me. As soon as police are finished I'm going to get back in," Skill said.

"If they burn me down, people using these products will just go elsewhere or turn to something else."

By yesterday afternoon, Skill was back in the shop, using the back door.

The arson would force him to put in heavy security grills and make the streets of south Invercargill look like a ghetto, he said. Anti-legal high protesters said they believed the fire was more likely started by a legal-high user than someone against the drugs.

Sarah Haendgen, who is helping organise a rally against the sale of legal highs in the city today, said it was the users who were actually angry "with that stuff". "It doesn't surprise us."

She said her group did not condone what had happened.

Invercargill Deputy Mayor Darren Ludlow, who is also the chairman of the council's regulatory services committee which is responsible for drawing up a policy to move all legal-high shops into the CBD, said he he was not surprised a legal-high shop had been damaged.

"If it was someone who opposed legal highs who did this, I certainly don't condone it but I can understand their frustration," Ludlow said.

"It's not the right way but if someone's loved one had suffered from the terrible effects of these substances I would understand. If it was my kids, I'd be angry."

There was a great deal of frustration in the community towards the Government for not doing more to rid cities and towns of legal highs, Ludlow said.

If the fire was caused by someone taking the law into their own hands, they had to understand the legal-high shops were not owned by those selling the products, he said.

"These people are just tenants. It will hit the landlords and potentially any businesses next to the legal-high shop," he said.

Kingswell station officer Greg Koppert said fire crews arrived just before 1am to discover a fast-developing fire in the shop.

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Firefighters had to force their way into Impuls'd quickly to contain the fire and search the upper regions of the shop for occupants, he said.

South Invercargill TAB Agency operator Barry Lucas said he was alerted to the fire when the smoke alarm in the TAB next door to Impuls'd went off.

"When I got here, there was a lot of thick smoke coming out of the shop and some was going into the TAB," he said. "There was also a very strong smell of smoke but a lot of other sorts of smells."

The TAB did not sustain any serious damage and punters were only inconvenienced slightly with a delay to opening, Lucas said.

SECURITY TO INCREASE

Security will be increased if legal-high shops are forced into the central business district but that may not prevent incidents like yesterday's arson attack, retailers say.

South City shop Impuls'd was torched when a Molotov cocktail was thrown through a smashed window early yesterday morning.

Invercargill Deputy Mayor Darren Ludlow, who is also chairman of the regulatory services committee, said ideally there would be no legal-high shops in Invercargill but the council was hamstrung by Government legislation and all that could be done was stipulate where legal-high shops could be set up.

Under the local approved products policy, legal-high shops would have to move into the central city and this would mean greater security, Ludlow said.

But there was always a chance something similar could happen.

"I would be concerned if I was a business next door to a legal-high shop. All across the country you hear about problems these shops and their clients cause for other businesses. There is a high level of antisocial behaviour being reported."

Retailers next to Pillz & Thrillz, the only other Invercargill shop selling legal highs, were concerned that Impuls'd was the target of arson and hoped it was not a sign of further attacks on legal high shops.

Forrest Jewellers owner Gavin McVie said although he had his own views on legal highs, there was no place for arson attacks on any business operating within the law.

"If this was done by people trying to make a point, there are proper channels to follow, including talking to MPs and council. Burning down a business doesn't change anything and only has the potential to hurt innocent people."

Art Supplies Southland co-owner Sandra Rattray echoed McVie's sentiments. There was no room for any mob mentality in Invercargill, she said.

Pillz & Thrillz owner Ann Kincaid said she was confident police would handle the matter and did not wish to comment further.

- Southland

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