Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA Maurice Morrow has backed calls by Northern Ireland’s Senior Coroner John Leckey to have manslaughter charges brought against those who peddled the drug which killed a Dungannon teenager.
The DUP MLA also warned that those withholding information should be charged with perverting the course of justice.
He said: “It would be an extremely hard individual who was unmoved by the harrowing story of Alice Devlin who died after taking a synthetic form of what was thought to be Ecstasy.
“But unmoved is exactly what drug dealers are for their only concern is where they are going to find someone to fill the void created by the loss of a customer. They are dealing out death.
“Equally, anyone who fails to report what they know of this tragic incident or any of the related incidents, is permitting a killer to continue to ply their vile trade. How anyone could allow this is a travesty to Alice’s memory.
“In the name of justice for her family, and for the sake of others, someone needs to speak out.
“We are told some 20 people in Northern Ireland have died in a very short time, after taking this drug, known - amongst other things -as speckled cherries.
“Whilst I accept police need evidence for such a prosecution, I do not accept enough is being done to have those who know who is responsible made amenable. There are alternatives available for those who continue to maintain a stubborn silence. Charges of withholding information for refusing to disclose details, or perverting the course of justice by damaging evidence are just two examples.
“It is galling to think those responsible for these deaths are continuing to live with impunity or fear of prosecution, such is the grip they have on the community. That is a matter for the PSNI, but there must be co-operation from those who know the facts. Court disposals for too long have been minimal and failed to deter. Sentencing need to be significantly increased to reflect the seriousness of the crime and take into account the heartache of victims and their families.
“And whilst I fully understand persons who choose to take illegal drugs do so of their own free will, I remain disturbed at the potential belief that a so-called ‘legal high’ will not do harm. This is a gross and dangerous misconception. Drug dealers are shrewd enough to know they can manipulate their customers into believing whatever they want to get a sale.
“The ‘legal high’ industry as a whole is equally shrewd to know they can alter the chemical compound of substances to escape loopholes the minute the product is banned. This loophole needs closed because while it exists the risks remain. They are playing cat and mouse with the law.
“For some time I have called for the term ‘legal high’ to be scrapped and replaced with a more accurate name such as ‘life-threatening drugs’. Mr Leckey’s apt analogy of playing Russian roulette every time one of these pills are taken, needs to be rigorously driven home. The stakes are just too high when gambling with a life.
“It’s time to get real. People have died and families have been thrown into unimaginable grief. More people are going to die if action isn’t taken as a matter of urgency.”