By Marie Sharp, Local Democracy Reporter
A shopkeeper has said staff have quit his store after being intimidated and threatened for refusing to sell booze to underage youths.
Shiva Kumar said his convenience store in Haddington has been damaged, staff abused at the local bus stop and even received death threats because the store refused to sell alcohol to underage customers.
Speaking to East Lothian Licensing Board, Mr Kumar, who owns two stores in the town’s High Street, said he regularly had to call police to deal with antisocial behaviour outside his store and threats.
Mr Kumar made the claims as he made an objection to a bid by the new manager of a neighbouring newsagent to sell alcohol.
He told the board his objections were based on the crime problems in the town centre caused by youths trying to get alcohol.
He said: “After 13 years operating we, ourselves, are scared because of the crime rate in the high street.
“We are having to provide accommodation locally to our staff because when they try to board the bus home at night, they are being threatened and our windows are being broken.
“We have had a couple of resignations from staff who said they could no longer travel home by bus because they said they were being intimidated at the bus stop because they would not sell them alcohol.”
Agent for the new manager of the town’s Shop Smart Sheree Shah, Alastair McDonald, told the licensing board they needed to add alcohol to their sales because newspapers were no longer profitable.
He said it was the only newsagent in the area and the only one in town which still delivered using paper boys and girls.
He said: “A lot of the younger generation don’t buy newspapers any more but people of my generation still do and it is a facility my clients are keen to keep in place.
“They also deliver newspapers to various places in Haddington which nobody else does, however there is not a high mark up and in real life newspapers are not particularly profitable and my clients need to look at other ways of making this a viable concern.”
Mr McDonald claimed the objections from the owner of neighbouring shops were ‘trade’ objections, suggesting it was about competition.
However, objector Mr Kumar demanded he withdraw his comments insisting he was concerned about crime not profits.
He said: “You have to take those words back, we have two premises and have had buoyant competition, we are a community orientated shop not one who thinks it can carry all the money.
“Our biggest worry is crime is increasing.”
East Lothian Provost John McMillan, chairing the board meeting, said that local elected members were “well aware” of some of the issues raised by Mr Kumar and other objectors but that they were being addressed in other areas through community policing, antisocial behaviour teams and working groups.
He said: “In my view it is not the sale of alcohol that is the problem, it is the behaviour of the people who buy it. It makes it even more important that our shops, community and residents, report these issues.
“It is my opinion having the shop and licensing it, if it is managed well, if it complies with our licensing objectives and is aware of the risks of the past, it must play an active part with neighbours. Those factors will lead to a strengthened role in reporting any issues.
“I do not see any reason to object to the licence.”
The board unanimously approved the licence.