Reading shop fined £10,000 and told it cannot sell super strength alcohol

By Tevye Markson, Local Democracy Reporter

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Anrish News on Oxford Road, Reading (Photo: Google Street View, July 2019)

A Reading shop has been fined £10,000 and told to stop selling ‘super-strength’ beer and cider.

Anrish News, on 102 Oxford Road, was fined the five-figure sum by the Home Office for employing an illegal worker, it was revealed at a Licensing review on 19 November.

At the review, Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) Licensing committee said the shop must stop selling alcohol above 6.5 per cent due to anti-social behaviour, crime and disorder and street drinking issues in the area.

This follows the Home Office’s decision to fine the shop for employing a worker who at the time did not have the right to work in this country but now does.

Police officer Simon Wheeler said: “The point of this is not to close the businesses down but to see improvements.”

He said the shop, which started to take some measures such as fixing its CCTV and new training after the review was called in, is moving in the right direction but questioned why it had taken so long.

Another shop, Today’s Express, at 107 Oxford Road, which is opposite Anrish News, was given the same restriction in a meeting that took place afterwards.

Thames Valley Police had hoped to impose harsher restrictions, wanting both shops to be banned from selling beer and cider over 5.5 per cent, but the committee rejected this option.

Both shops were also given a swathe of identical new conditions to ensure they comply with licensing rules after failing to meet several requirements over the past few years.

Five other shops on Oxford Road are due to have their licences reviewed, as part of a police crackdown, with two to be reviewed next week.

Officers have been called to Anrish News eight times since a company called Best Food and Wine Reading Ltd took charge in July 2017, to deal with fights, anti-social behaviour and shoplifting.

During one incident, in November 2018, a group of teenagers attacked the owner, threw a bottle at him and spat at him.

A month later, a group of men started fighting inside the shop and the fight spilled out onto the street. Police could not use CCTV footage of the incident as evidence because the shop’s camera was not recording.

Officers carried out a licensing inspection in August and the outcome was “unsatisfactory”, as they found that staff had been poorly trained and they did not understand the existing licensing conditions.

Both shops have now been given conditions which include conduct proper training and thoroughly check staff members’ right to work in the UK.

Councillor Karen Rowland, who spoke in support of the ban on super strength sales, said: “These two shops are a focus of the unfortunate reputation that Oxford Road has.”

She said there around 20-30 individuals known to the community, many of whom visit the area from homeless shelters and B&Bs and purchase super strength alcohol.

There is a public spaces protection order on Oxford Road which does not ban street drinking but means police can take alcohol from those causing disorder.

But police officer Simon Wheeler said enforcement on its own cannot make the difference and all members attending the meeting agreed a holistic approached needs to be taken to root out the issues of street drinking, anti-social behaviour and crime on Oxford Road, with the super strength ban just one method of many.