After decades of decline, the honour of being named UK City of Culture gave residents ­something to be proud of again.

There have been millions more ­visitors and hundreds of extra jobs since Hull was rebranded two years ago.

But the once-mighty Yorkshire fishing port is also experiencing an invasion of spice zombies.

This is one of many nicknames for users of a synthetic cannabis said to be hundreds of times more potent than normal pot.

Addicts stagger round like the ­walking dead, collapse on to the ground or go into a trance.

The doped-up louts, who can also be aggressive, are driving traders and shoppers away from the city centre.

Victoria Rymer who had to close her business mainly because of Hull City Centre currently being in the grips of a Spice problem

Victoria Rymer, who moved her hair salon out of town after 25 years, said: “There used to be the odd one begging. You’d feel sorry for them and buy them a cup of tea. Now they are in big gangs, it’s quite threatening.

“I had one lady, about 60, and she said it would be her last time as she felt frightened walking in the centre.

“There were a number of reasons for moving, but the problems with these gangs was a big factor. I employ young girls. They come in early every ­morning when groups are hanging around.”

Another trader who packed up is coffee van man Gwyn Williams.

Hull City Centre, currently in the grips of a Spice problem

He said thugs threatened him with acid, bleach and knives – and even vowed to rape his partner.

He said: “Soon after I started I was visited by two thugs, demanding free coffee. I turned them away politely. That, in their eyes, was a big mistake on my part.

“I would be met by these two thugs between half six and seven in the ­morning telling me to get out of the city centre. I’m on their patch.”

Extra patrols have been seen – along with armed officers – although police stressed they were routine and not linked to spice problems.

Local Brookes Menswear store manager John Trott who has witnessed the problem first hand

John Trott, manager of Brookes Menswear, said: “We’ve had the chief of police come in. He said he didn’t realise it was as bad as this.

“You see them dealing drugs, taking drugs, shouting, arguing, using the ­alley as a toilet.

“People are reluctant to say anything because of the abuse.

“It’s been building slowly for the last few years. Since they ­pedestrianised it all there are more places to congregate. To be fair, the police have been taking notice. Now things are better.”

The pop-up police presence in King Edward Square used to move the offenders on, however some seem to be undeterred even when confronted with armed officers

It is not only the ­shopkeepers who are affected. Former serviceman Pete Underwood, 64, said the druggies ruined a Battle of Britain memorial march in Hull last month – with one filmed slumped among poppy wreaths at the cenotaph.

He said: “They were coming up to us asking for money, out of their heads while we were marching with a band in front of us.

“There’s two or three times when we have had to move spice heads on. I don’t know how I keep my temper.

 

“We had to move sleeping bags from the cenotaph and put them over the wall.

“We have even caught them urinating there.

“It is disrespectful for us. We have fought for ­people like that.” Another shopkeeper said; “Hull is a great city but all of this doesn’t help on top of other economic factors.

“It’s putting people off coming into the centre because they don’t want to be bothered by a beggar who might be on drugs.

“I suspect it’s also a factor in other people not wanting to take up all the empty shop units.” Police tackling anti-social behaviour in the city have ­arrested 400 people and issued 700 dispersal orders since June last year.

And locals say things have improved since they installed a pop-up police pod in the centre.

The armed presence is part of a an organised deterrent

Inspector Jules Hart said: “Hull is a fantastic city with a lot to offer to ­residents and visitors alike and we are committed to working with the local community to make sure that it stays that way.

“Like all cities, there are issues and we continue to deal with anti-social behaviour, working with businesses and other agencies to try and find long term solutions.

“We have set up a new city centre group with our local partners which will help us to improve the centre for businesses, traders, shoppers and residents.

“We have also brought the new Humber Talking Pod to Jameson Street where it remains open for business.

“Everyone is invited to drop in to talk to police, fire service and council about any concerns.

“We have had a brilliant ­response from the public so far with people coming to chat to us. We have already seen a difference since the pod has been in place, with a reduction in anti-social behaviour in the city centre, and we are now looking at extending its original two-week tenure until after Christmas.

“We will continue to make arrests and issue dispersal notices. However this is a complex issue that cannot be solved by arrests alone.”

Hull was buzzing after being named City of Culture in 2017

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Hull beat Leicester, Dundee and Swansea to become the UK’s second City of Culture after Derry in Northern Ireland was the first in 2013. The ­honour lasts for four years.

Hull City Council said: “We have outreach workers engaging with ­substance misusers on a daily basis and work exhaustively on an ongoing basis with our partner agencies who offer drugs and alcohol support services to those whom will take them up.

“In addition we take every opportunity to engage with ­people who may need support, such as upon arrest in police custody and following hospital admission for drug misuse.

“Residents in Hull were ­hugely receptive to a campaign to stop giving money to those who approach them as they may be unintentionally enabling ­people to buy drugs and alcohol. Our work will continue.”

Invented by mistake

Spice is a synthetic cannabis - but it's much stronger than regular pot

Spice is a plant-based mix of herbs laced with synthetic chemicals meant to mimic cannabis’s psychoactive substances.

Videos of users slumped in town centres, parks or prison cells have been posted on social media.

The drug was made illegal in May 2016 when the Psychoactive Substances Act came into force, aiming to restrict production, sale and supply. There is pressure to upgrade spice from a Class B drug to Class A.

Spice, aka K2 and black mamba, is believed to have been accidentally made in 2006 by a chemist searching for a new way of developing anti-inflammatory medication.