A HEROIN substitute could be dispensed from Widnes police station to stop drug users damaging town centre trade.

The measure is among several being considered by Widnes Neighbourhood Policing Unit's Inspector Nick Bailey in response to desperate pleas by traders.

Business owners say a group who take drugs, get drunk and shoplift are forcing customers away.

Mr Bailey is considering having methadone prescriptions issued from Widnes police station to stop the troublemakers gathering near pharmacies.

He is also stepping up patrols and says officers will use a range of measures to bring offenders to book.

He said: 'I know that the town centre is having problems from early morning to late in the evening with a group of individuals who are drinking and Paul Smith, the town centre manager, also has concerns.

'Some are drawn to the town centre for the drugs dispensed from the chemists and I want to see if it is possible to change the locations where these are given out. I am even looking at whether the service could be run from the police station.

'I have sought to put staff out to see if offences are being committed and we are looking at sending warning letters to these individuals.'

Paula Collinson, franchisee at the Subway sandwich bar on Albert Road, says her business is being affected.

Her staff fled the shop after a drunken man entered at closing time and grabbed a knife from the counter.

She said: 'They are an absolute nightmare. They are outside the shop from 7.30am every day, shouting abuse at passers-by.

'All the shopkeepers say it is getting worse.'