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Father to appeal ‘harsh’ sentence for selling laughing gas as new law is questioned

Legal challenge follows collapse of two psychoactive substance cases in recent weeks

08 September, 2017 — By William McLennan

LAWYERS representing a young father serving a “harsh” sentence for supplying laughing gas are to launch an appeal after two similar cases collapsed when experts said the drug is exempt from a new law intended to ban so-called legal highs.

Sonny Chapman, 27, who has begun a prison term of two years and four months, is hoping to have his conviction overturned after courts ruled that the drug is not covered by legislation introduced last year .

Nitrous oxide, which has for decades been used in medicine and catering, has more recently been inhaled from a balloon by partygoers who report a short-lived feeling of euphoria.

The government moved to ban its use as a party drug with the introduction of the Psychoactive Sub- stances Act in May last year.

Mr Chapman, a father of two, was found guilty of possession of a psychoactive substance with intent to supply after a five-day trial.

Mr Chapman is serving a 28-month sentence, which his lawyers called “harsh”

The court heard officers on patrol saw a “group of young people” gathered around Mr Chapman’s car in Gray’s Inn Road at 4am on September 9 last year. They found around 400 canisters in his vehicle and then 14,000 more at his home address in Islington.

Mr Chapman, registered director of SB Catering Supplies, based in Warren Street, had told the court he was legally supplying the canisters for use in food preparation.

In the days after his sentencing, the trial of a man accused of the same offence collapsed at Southwark Crown Court when the prosecution’s own witness said the drug was exempt from the Act because of its legitimate use in medicine.

It followed an earlier collapse of a trial at Taunton Crown Court on the same grounds.

Debashish Dey, director at Landmark Law Solicitors, who represented Mr Chapman, said: “What the recent cases in Southwark Crown Court and Taunton Crown Court have highlighted is that the prosecution’s own expert appears to have accepted that it’s a drug that is used for medicinal purposes and therefore exempt.

“The grounds of appeal will be that there was a mistake in the classification of nitrous oxide.”

The Crown Prosecution Service is understood to be considering the outcome of the collapsed cases and its impact on future prosecutions. The Home Office has maintained that laughing gas “is illegal to supply for its psychoactive effect”.

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