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    Second licence suspension in as many days in Chorley

    Vinny’s Convenience Store in Chorley (Photo via LDRS)
    By Paul Faulkner, Local Democracy Reporter

    A second corner shop in Chorley has had its premises licence suspended after allowing underage customers to buy a knife and alcohol in separate incidents during trading standards swoops in the borough.

    Chorley Council’s licensing panel imposed a six-week ban on the sale of alcohol from Vinny’s Convenience Store – located at the junction of Water Street and Congress Street – just 24 hours after issuing the same sanction to a similar, but unrelated, outlet little more than a mile away.

    Both had failed similar so-called “test purchases” carried out on the same two days earlier this summer  – the first involving an attempt by a 13 year-old and 15-year-old pair to buy a trimming knife and the second the attempted purchase of alcohol by 16 and 17-year-old youths.

    The panel heard that the wife of Vinny’s premises licence holder Vinod Halai was the seller of the items on both occasions at the couple’s store.

    The knife sale came during a nationwide crackdown and members were told that the authorities had no intelligence that had caused them concern about the operation of the business at any previous point in Mr. Halai’s 14-year tenure. The premises had passed its only other test purchase in that time – relating to alcohol – which was carried out in 2013.

    Mr. Halai said that he did not take the recent incidents “lightly” and presented evidence to the panel of fresh training undertaken by his wife, who is currently the only other staff member at the shop.

    Mrs. Halai told the panel that she had been unaware that the trimming knife – described at the meeting as “a plastic-handled Stanley knife” – had been an age-restricted item.  She sold the product to a 13-year-old on 17th May and panel members heard that, prior to completing the transaction, she had asked for the test purchaser’s age – which he gave correctly.

    Quizzed by Chorley Council’s licensing enforcement team leader Nathan Howson as to why she had felt the need establish the boy’s age when she did not know it was unlawful to sell the item to anyone under 18, Mrs. Halai said: “I was trying to judge how old he was, [because] let’s say if he was eight or nine, I probably wouldn’t [have sold it to him] just [out of] a sense of responsibility.”

    Mrs. Halai had earlier said she had not realised that a trimming knife was classed in the same category as a kitchen knife – which she understood could be sold only to adults – and said of the test purchaser:  “He didn’t come across as hesitant in any way, he was quite confident – and I guess I just made the mistake of selling it to him.”

    During a subsequent alcohol test purchase on 2nd June, a 17-year-old was able to buy four cans of Strongbow cider.

    Mr. Halai said that his wife “genuinely thought [the buyer] was old enough, but accepts that she “shouldn’t have assumed and should have asked him for ID”.

    PC Stephen Connolly, of Lancashire Police, said he was “very concerned” that there had been two unlawful sales “in such quick succession” and requested a three-month suspension of the licence.

    He also told the panel that a “refusals logbook” kept on the premises to detail the occasions on which customers had been turned down for are-restricted sales was kept in a diary dating back to 2009/10 – and that the entries themselves had no dates attached to them.

    Nathan Howson said that while there were multiple entries in different parts of the book, it was “impossible to determine” when they had been made.

    Mr. Halai said that the trimming knife was not a product he had actively sought to sell and that it had been added to “the bits and bobs” stand by the company that keeps that display topped up.

    He added that he had now removed the knife and blades from sale and had put up ‘Challenge 25’ posters near the shop’s chillers as a reminder of the need to ask anyone who appears under that age for identification before they can buy alcohol.

    Mr. Halai – who is also the designated premises supervisor – said that he understood the panel’s “concern for public safety”.

    “I want to assure you that we are not a threat or a nuisance to the public . We are a family-run business and …have been here for 14 years.  I understand it’s my responsibility [to prevent unlawful sales] and going forward, I will ensure regular training checks are carried out and logbooks are signed and dated,” Mr. Halai said.

    After deliberating for around three quarters of an hour, the panel opted for a six-week suspension of the premises licence and also agreed to seven police-requested conditions being imposed on it.  However, members toughened up a ban on the sale of the knives from the outlet by removing an exemption suggested by the police that would have allowed folding pocket knives to be sold in the shop.

    Panel chair Cllr Matthew Lynch said that a trimming knife was “capable of being a serious offensive weapon if in the wrong hands”.

    As part of the other conditions being put on the licence, staff must record what type of ID was provided by anyone appearing to be under 25 when buying an age-restricted product – and record the refusal of sale that occurs when no such documentation is provided.

    Just 24 hours earlier, the panel had imposed the same suspension and conditions on Greenwoods Convenience Store on Seymour Street after it failed knife and alcohol test purchases on the same days as Vinny’s.

    The licence suspensions at both premises will not kick in until a 21-day deadline for an appeal against the decisions has passed.

    (Local Democracy Reporting Service)

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