The former owner and employee of a Hammersmith off-licence that sold alcohol to children have been fined.
The rogue retailer was rumbled after Trading Standards officers from Hammersmith & Fulham Council investigated their ‘Smokemart’ store in King Street and sent underage buyers in.
But just one month after selling alcohol to our two underage volunteers – aged 15 and 17 – our Trading Standards officers discovered more than 111 litres of untaxed spirits and 23 litres of counterfeit vodka in their King Street shop.
“We were determined to rid Hammersmith of this shop endangering their customers, and children in particular,” said Doug Love, Senior Trading Standards Officer at H&F Council.
“It sends a message that we won’t allow shops to sell to children or deal in illicit goods and that the consequences are severe. Their behaviour was also unfair to our many well-run licensed retailers.”
Even after our busts, Trading Standards received complaints from the Met Police about the shop, as well from local school staff and parents. In one shocking case, a local Year 11 boy ended up in A&E after drinking vodka allegedly purchased from their shop at 123b King Street.
Mr Love said he believed this was the worst case of underage selling he’d come across in his 32-year career. It was also the biggest seizure of spirits from a retailer that he’d ever been involved in.
The 68 bottles of counterfeit vodka can be significantly dangerous, or even fatal, to consume and produce. The duty and VAT payable on the seized goods was approximately £2,350.
Once alerted by H&F Trading Standards, the licence holder for the shop – who had not been involved in running the shop for some years – surrendered the premises licence, leaving the business unable to sell alcohol.
“We have zero tolerance for shops that peddle harmful products to children,” said Cllr Rebecca Harvey, H&F Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion and Community Safety. “And thanks to our team, these rogue traders are now out of business.”
The defendants – Jalinder Ahuja, company director of the former Smokemart shop, and his employee, Baldev Ram – signed cautions with Mr Ahuja paying costs of £4,237.50 and Mr Ram paying costs of £1,470.
Separately, Mr Ahuja’s company (CM Phones and Foods Limited) was prosecuted after pleading guilty to violations of the Licensing Act, the Trade Marks Act and The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.
A solicitor for H&F Council appeared at the City of London Magistrates Court on 11 May and detailed the complaints against the shop, that included:
December 2019 – Mr Ram sold alcohol to two underage volunteers working with H&F Council (aged 15 and 17).
January 2020 – H&F Council inspected their stock of alcohol and uncovered 111.7 litres of non-duty paid spirits and 23.8 litres of counterfeit vodka. The spirits were immediately seized.
February 2020 – Trading Standards officers at H&F received complaints from two nearby schools as well as the Met Police. Two pupils from Year 9 and one from Year 11 allegedly bought spirits from the shop. In another report, a group of Year 11 boys were said to be regularly drinking alcohol supplied by the shop.
As a result, one boy developed a ‘significant and long-running alcohol problem’ for which he was receiving treatment. The shop’s staff were also accused of giving a free bottle of vodka to a boy as a 16th birthday present. The reports said that the boys were regularly supplied the illicit alcohol at the back door to avoid detection and had to pay more than the normal price to obtain the spirits.
(The current shop at 123b King Street has new owners who are in no way involved in this case.)
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