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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 13:00 GMT
City sex shop owners warned
porn graphic
Owners of six sex shops in Belfast city centre have been warned they could face heavy fines if they continue trading.

Applications for operating licences by all the shops were rejected by Belfast City Council's Health and Safety Committee on Monday.

Ulster Unionist Councillor Chris McGimpsey said the council had followed the wishes of people living close to the shops.

A proliferation would have led to the setting up of virtually a red light district in the area

Chris McGimpsey
UUP councillor
"A number of them have operated illegally for some time with no attempt to get licences or to regularise the situation.

"Now, when the pressure is on, they have applied for licences. We decided unanimously that neither of the two areas are suitable for sex shops," he said.

Mr McGimpsey said a proliferation would have "led to the setting up of virtually a red light district in the area".

The areas of Gresham Street and North Queen Street in the city centre were designated as unsuitable for such shops, as people lived nearby and children could use neighbouring stores.

Objections were also raised about some of the applicants themselves.

Mr McGimpsey said the shop owners' defence had been that they were putting together licence applications.

"Now that they have arrived, we have deemed them unsuitable," he said.

The decision could be amended at a full meeting of the council.

Mr McGimpsey said he assumed that as the motion received the unanimous support of the major parties, the committee's decision should become full council policy.

He warned that the council could then move for injunctions to close the shops, and owners could face severe fines of up to 30,000.

Jane Cuthbertson, who runs two adult stores in the city centre, said the council's decision could drive trade underground.

"All the sex shops are standing firm on this and we are going to court," she said.

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  BBC NI's Tara Mills:
"The owners say there is a growing demand for their products"
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