Wolverhampton corner shop has licence revoked after seizure of fake cigarettes
A corner shop has had its licence revoked in a crackdown on black market trading after hundreds of counterfeit cigarettes were seized in a police raid.
A chute connecting the store in Pennfields, Wolverhampton, to an the upstairs flat was used to convey the illegal booty to the shop floor on demand, licensing chiefs heard.
The haul from Zinar's off-licence and convenience store in Lime Street included well-known brands such as Benson & Hedges, Mayfair and Marlboro Gold.
Officers raiding the shop last October found a sales assistant trying to jump out of an upstairs window with a bag containing1,020 illegal cigarettes and 650g of hand-rolling tobacco.
The premises has a history of black market trading in cigarettes, with the last owner losing his licence in February last year, it emerged. Police, trading standards and the licensing authority had made a joint application to have the licence reviewed.
The licensing sub-committee heard that if customers wanted to buy illegal cigarettes or tobacco, the order would be radioed to someone in the flat above who would either personally bring the good down or or put them in the chute, with the cigarettes landing on a shelf below the counter.
Owner Alan Surche, who successfully applied for a new licence in May, told the committee that he had no connection with the previous occupant.
He accepted responsibility for having the illegal brands at the shop but claimed he was not selling them, and did not use the chute.
But Inspector Lee Davies, of Wolverhampton Police, said he was not convinced. "We take this sort of criminal activity very seriously and believe he is not a fit and proper person to hold a licence."
He added the selling of cheap illegal cigarettes also posed a risk to public safety and affected the wider economy.
Elaine Moreton, from the licensing authority, said Mr Surche showed 'a blatant disregard' for the law.
Paul Dosanjh, trading services lead officer, also spoke of his concern. "Our inspection was not just a hopeful punt in the dark – what was discovered perfectly described what officers had previously found."
The seized cigarettes included a number of brands known as 'foreign cheap whites' such as NZ Gold and Minsk, brought to the UK illegally specifically to be sold on the black market.
The cigarettes had a mixture of English and foreign health warnings in old-style packaging that had been banned since May last year.
The English Mayfair and Marlboro Gold packets were marked as duty-free only.
The licensing sub-committee ruled it was satisfied that criminal activity had taken place and that Mr Surche was flouting the laws. He has 21 days to appeal the decision.