A shop in Erdington could lose its licence after being accused of using a ‘secret compartment’ to sell ‘smuggled’ tobacco and alcohol to schoolchildren.
And it was also alleged that the shop could be supporting an ‘organised crime syndicate’ with money generated from the goods.
Maxi Food on Wood End Road, Erdington, went before the council’s licensing committee after 32 bottles of illicit vodka and 514 packets of illicit cigarettes were seized – the majority of which were stored in a hidden compartment behind the shop’s counter.
They were discovered during a visit by West Midlands Police and Trading Standards earlier this year.
Speaking during the meeting, a spokesperson for Trading Standards said that attention was first drawn to the shop after a report by a local resident that they were selling these products to schoolchildren, adding that he felt the shop was being run as ‘part of an organised crime syndicate.’
“We received a call from a member of the public, and the complainant said ‘this shop is selling illegal tobacco and alcohol every day, and children from the local school buy these items,” the spokesperson said.
“So we undertook a joint visit to the premises, and while standing at the counter we noticed six bottles of vodka actually on the counter, which had price stickers on.
“All were 40 per cent alcohol, however none of them had duty-paid stamps as required for alcohol of this strength to be sold in the UK. So they were not legal for sale in the UK, because technically they were smuggled items.
“We also noticed two open packs of cigarettes on the counter, and both men said ‘oh they belong to me they belong to me’, which again is a bit suspicious. The reason I say this is that sometimes it’s an indication that the shop is selling single cigarettes, which is an offence, not only to sell to children but to anyone.”
A spokesperson for West Midlands Police added: “During the visit the Trading Standards officer noticed a hidden compartment underneath the counter and believed more cigarettes were concealed within.
“The three officers in attendance tried to find a way to gain access, unaware at the time that the secret hatch was held shut with a magnetic lock.
“The question was put to the staff member if he knew how to open that hatch, he stated yes and at the first try opened the hatch.
“Within this secret compartment, the vast majority of illicit cigarette packs were found. No explanation was given for the cigarettes and they refused to accept accountability for the cigarettes when Trading Standards requested a signature to confirmed the seized items.
“There was a much larger quantity of illicit cigarettes in that compartment than legitimate cigarettes on display; this suggests their main source of business with tobacco is around the illicit products.
“The sheer amount of seized illicit goods shows the premise has a carefree attitude towards trading illegally to consumers with total disregard for the licensing objectives. The large amount also shows the premises are willing to invest a significant amount of money into illegal activity with the hope of further monetary gains at the expense of its customer base and local community.”
They added: “The successful acquisition of illicit goods will require the use of organised crime gangs who work with legitimate businesses to distribute and sell the products. These legitimate businesses trade via illegitimate methods when engaging in this practice.
“The premises licence holder has provided a channel to successfully fund and support organised crime gangs. The money generated from the illicit purchase of these goods, funds other operations of criminal activity which in turn have even more of negative impact on the wider community.”
No representative for the shop spoke at the meeting.