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Detectives probe a possible local grudge in latest blaze

DETECTIVES investigating the latest blaze at a city headshop have not ruled out a possible link with last week's arson attack on another premises.

Gardai are probing whether the attempt to burn down the Happy Hippy store on North Frederick Street is connected with a fire that gutted another store selling legal drugs last week.

That arson attack -- on the Nirvana headshop on Capel Street -- destroyed the building and brought traffic in the area to a standstill.

Gardai are refusing to comment on whether the attacks could be part of an orchestrated campaign against the controversial headshops.

They are hunting two men in connection with the latest attack which happened just five days after the Nirvana fire.

The fire brigade rushed to the scene of Tuesday's fire at the Happy Hippy Store near Parnell Square, when the blaze was reported after 9pm.

Up to 20 firefighters tackled it and one person, who was rescued from the premises, had to be treated in hospital for shock.

Eyewitnesses later described two men wearing balaclavas approached the shop with petrol, causing damage mainly to the outside of the premises.

The scene was closed off for technical examination. The inside of the shop suffered only minor damage.

The owner of the shop was said to be "very upset".

Meanwhile, owner of the gutted Nirvana store Jim Bellamy said he now fears for his other businesses as he believes the blaze was started intentionally.

Gardai have said any links between the two fires will form part of the investigation.

The fires came amid ongoing controversy about the proliferation of headshops around the country.

Labour TD Joe Costello said the latest incident was "clearly arson" and said criminals were watching the operations of headshops.

"Either scenario is equally worrying -- either people taking the law into their own hands or the heavies from the illegal substances industry who don't want to see other people taking their clientele," he said.

The fires have sparked calls for headshops to be brought under a licensing regime similar to that used for operating pubs.

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly called for the Finance Bill, which is going through the Dail, to be amended to require headshops to have an operating licence.

aphelan@herald.ie


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