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The Worthing Herald, 26th August 2005

WORTHING'S last cannabis café has reopened just days after police shut it down.

Up to 40 officers used a huge saw and cutting gear to force through two 5in-thick reinforced doors to get into the Amsterdam-style café in Victoria Road, Worthing, on August 11.

Two men and a woman were arrested on suspicion of supplying controlled drugs and West Sussex fire officers closed down the premises over safety fears that there was no fire escape.

But traders working close to the venue were appalled to discover that it was back open for business on Saturday with a steady flow of up to 200 customers a day, little more than a week after officers swooped.

One businesswoman, who asked not to be named, said: "It is a joke. If I tried to open a business with no planning permission, which was illegal, and had no fire regulations or sufficient fire exits and completely waving two fingers at the law, I wouldn't expect to get away with it for two years."

Mikey Allday, head of café security and one of those arrested, defended the venue's safety record since it opened more than two years ago and claimed cannabis was less harmful than alcohol.

He said: "There has been no trouble here in the two years it has been open. Not one fight, not one fist thrown.There have been no drugs, other than cannabis, since the place was opened. And certainly no class A drugs."

A sign adorned the entrance excluding customers under 18 and warned anyone caught with alcohol or class A drugs faced a lifetime ban.

Mr Allday, who admitted serving a prison sentence for drugs offences, has installed two new doors, improved security, and built a fire escape since the operation. Area fire commander Neil Odin inspected the property last Friday and declared it safe to reopen. Mr Allday, the British prison bench press record holder, accused police of adopting a heavy-handed approach during the raid with 30 people trapped inside the building and smoke seen coming from the chimney.

He added: "I have repaired the damage the police have done and installed a new security system to prevent anyone from getting in here unlawfully. The police entered unlawfully and they won't do it again."

Inspector Steve Eldridge, who led the investigation called Operation Firebird, said: "This is an ongoing investigation and we are going to use appropriate methods to deal with the problem."

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