Leicester shopkeeper converted his cellar into illegal drinks den
A shopkeeper who converted his cellar into an illegal drinking den for his customers has been stripped of his licence to sell alcohol.
Nikunj Parmar opened up the cellar at his off-licence in Belgrave, Leicester, and allowed groups of men to spend hours there drinking alcohol and eating snacks from his shop upstairs.
He said he believed he was acting within the law.
However, Leicester City Council yesterday removed his alcohol licence after issuing a number of warnings.
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Council officials said the cellar at Jay’s General Store was a health and safety hazard, particularly in the event of a fire.
Officials found men drinking in a store room when they first visited the Belgrave Road shop in October 2011, following neighbours’ complaints of noise and anti-social behaviour.
At that time, Mr Parmar was taken to court for a range of licensing breaches and was fined £500.
On subsequent visits, council officials found he had moved his customers to his cellar.
During recent visits, officials found up to eight men drinking and snacking in the hidden area.
Bobby Smiljanic, of the city council’s licensing department, told a hearing at Leicester Town Hall yesterday that the entrance to the drinking den was a hatch in the floor next to the counter.
The hearing was told it appeared Mr Parmar had attempted to brighten up the cellar by painting the walls and installing seating.
Ms Smiljanic said: “On one of the occasions we visited, one of the men in the cellar was extremely intoxicated. As he got to the top of the steps from the cellar, he started swaying as if he was going to fall backwards. We were very concerned.
“Mr Parmar has chosen to apply for an off-licence, but he is effectively running a bar.
“When we spoke to him about this and asked him why he didn’t apply for a licence to run a bar, he said: ‘I wouldn’t get it would I?’
“The cellar has no means of escape apart from coming up the steps and back through the shop. Also, there is no CCTV which allows the people in the cellar to see what is happening in the shop.
“We have serious concerns that if there was a fire upstairs, the people in the cellar would be completely unaware until the smoke came through to the cellar, and by that time it would be too late for them.”
Members of the licensing panel asked Mr Parmar why his customers did not simply go to a pub or bar to drink.
He replied: “I have a seating area. People come here to have a little snack, talk about whatever they talk about and have a drink. There are pubs in the area but this is cheaper.”
Mr Parmar, who was not represented by a solicitor, told yesterday’s hearing: “I’m 24 years of age and I have a long lease to pay. If I lose my licence, I don’t know what I will be doing.”
The panel revoked his licence and Mr Parmar now has 21 days in which to decide whether to appeal. In the meantime, he can continue to sell alcohol.
Councillor Annette Byrne, who chaired the licensing hearing, said afterwards: “I found him totally irresponsible for allowing men to consume alcohol in his cellar.
“What could have happened if there had been a fire upstairs does not bear thinking about.”