Bootleg booze buy ends in shop losing its licence
An off-licence has been banned from selling booze for three months after buying illicit wine and spirits from an unknown man in a van.
Customs and trading standards officers found 177 bottles of smuggled alcohol on the shelves of Cardinals Store, in Netherhall, Leicester, when they visited the premises following a tip-off from a customer.
They seized 162 bottles of Italian wine, a dozen bottles of vodka and three bottles of whisky in the raid on June 28.
License holder Jayesh Ravanaya and his father Parbat, who works in the Cardinals Walk store, appeared before a city council licensing committee on Tuesday at the request of trading standards.
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Head of trading standards John Fox told councillors it was the first time his officials had requested a licence review of this kind following the introduction of new guidelines earlier this year.
He told the committee the wine had been smuggled in from abroad to avoid the payment of duty. He said the spirits were bottled in the UK with the intention of being exported but had never left the country, having been given false labels to disguise them.
Parbat Ranavaya told the committee he had bought the drink from a man in a van, whom he did not know. It was the first time he had done so since the shop opened four years ago. The total value of the illicit drink was more than £540.
Mr Fox said: "I have been a trading standards officer for 40 years and I have heard lots of tales of roguery in that time.
"It's common for people to say they have bought stuff from a dodgy man in a van."
Solicitor Frank Whale, representing the store, told the hearing: "We are not challenging what has happened. This happened and my clients realise they made a foolish mistake.
"This is a situation where the lesson has been learned and they should be allowed to continue to operate.
"We are looking at a family business. Without the licence the business would not be viable.
"However, they know they have to take their medicine."
Mr Whale said a previous Leicester Mercury article on the smuggled alcohol had caused his clients considerable embarrassment and sent "shockwaves through the trade".
He said the store normally bought its alcohol from legitimate businesses.
Committee member councillor Sue Barton said she was concerned the drink had been bought from an unknown source and then offered to customers without the store knowing if it was genuine.
She said: "Would the people in the shop have been satisfied they were not selling something poisonous?"
Mr Fox confirmed the bottles were from genuine producers but were falsely labelled.
Committee chairman John Thomas said the store had undermined the objectives of the licensing law. After the hearing, Mr Whale said his clients may appeal against the decision.
Mr Fox said: "It's a severe penalty short of revoking the licence, given that it was a first time offence.
"It will send a message to people in the trade that this is not acceptable."
Anyone with concerns about possible smuggled goods in stores can call trading standards on 0845 404 0506.