SPAR store where ‘Rambo’ knife found loses alcohol licence

By Gurdip Thandi, Local Democracy Reporter

Paul Sapra at the Walsall Council Licensing sub committee meeting.

The owner of a SPAR store where a Rambo-style knife was found and which became a “hub of violent incidents” has lost his alcohol licence.

Walsall Council’s licensing sub committee revoked the premises licence held by Paul Sapra for the off-licence and convenience store on Walsall Road, Aldridge following a string of concerns raised by police and Trading Standards.

At a meeting on Thursday (May 12), members were told the shop had become a hotbed for violence, drug use and anti-social behaviour involving school children while weapons had been discovered in and around the store.

One of these was described as a “Rambo” style knife which was found behind the counter.

A member of staff at the shop also sold an age-restricted vape to a 15-year-old volunteer deployed by Trading Standards. There was evidence alcohol and nicotine vapes were regularly sold to underage youths.

They were also told Mr Sapra had breached a Closure Notice which required him to have door staff employed at specified times of the day.

Mr Sapra said the problems were down to teenagers and a former member of staff, who was responsible for the knife and cannabis found in the shop for which he later received a court fine.

But the committee agreed with both police and Trading Standards had failed to prevent crime and disorder, prevent public nuisance and protect children safe from harm.

Among the incidents included a large scale disorder between youths fighting “postcode wars”, weapons hidden in the alleyway next to the shop and school children – including one wearing a balaclava – vaping in the premises.

On the latter occasion, police said Mr Sapra was heard warning the youths a teacher was coming before adding “not inside the shop, you can beat him up outside”.

PC Paul Tolley, licensing officer at West Midlands Police, said: “Since February 14, we’ve had quite a few incidents of anti-social behaviour. A Closure Notice was served on March 23. These conditions have been breached continually.

“Realistically, the premises licence holder remains responsible for the premises at all times and these have been breached on numerous occasions. We are concerned there will continue to be breaches in future.

“Mr Sapra has acted naively at best, irresponsibly at worst. If any conditions were added to his licence, I’d have concerns these won’t be adhered to based on the fact a closure notice has already been breached on several occasions.”

Mr Sapra told the hearing that he had been threatened by one youth’s older brother and reported it to the police but no action had been taken.

He also said he had been to Aldridge School offering to work with them to resolve issues but they had not come back to him.

Mr Sapra said he handed weapons found in the alleyway to the police while the knife and drugs were brought in by an ex-employee.

He said: “I had no idea whatsoever he had it behind the counter. And he did say it was his when he was arrested. When it went to court, he was given a fine just for the cannabis – no charge for the knife.

“Since then, he has been sacked and he’s not allowed to come to the premises.”

He said the problem with youths standing outside his shop committing anti-social behaviour or inhaling laughing gas were nothing to do with him and he had told them to disperse on a number of occasions.

He added he had challenged them on behaviour such as vaping in the shops “100 times” but they wouldn’t listen to him.

And Mr Sapra also said he didn’t mean to suggest the teacher could be beaten up outside his shop.

He said: “I didn’t mean to say that. The kids, including one with a balaclava started swearing at (the teacher) and I told them not to do it in the shop. It didn’t mean to come out that way. It’s not what I meant.”

The court order required him to have door supervisors for specified times totalling five hours a day but security firms were unwilling to take the job for less than eight hours, which Mr Sapra said would cost him too much money.

When he opened without them, he insisted he only let in regular customers and kept the door locked until they had left.

Mr Sapra said: “I do agree I made a mistake breaking the court order but I’ve learned my lessons and promise this will never happen again.

“I know who the kids are who were causing trouble in the shop and I’ll make sure those are not allowed to enter the premises at all.

“I will get new employees in there and I’ll make sure they are trained and I will put a Challenge 25 policy in.”

Ahead of the hearing, a number of local residents wrote letters of support for Mr Sapra and said the community would lose a valuable asset.

But in giving the decision, committee chair Councillor Sarah-Jane Cooper said: “There is considerable evidence this store has been used by youths for criminal activity including drug use. Weapons have been stored in or near the premises.

“Evidence and intelligence suggests alcohol and nicotine vapes are being regularly sold to underage youths.

“The store has been a hub for violent incidents, criminal activity and anti-social behaviour.

“Mr Sapra has sought to deflect any blame onto the actions of a former member of staff or the youths themselves.

“We reject this approach. Mr Sapra is responsible for the operation of his premises and his staff.

“In our view, the only appropriate and proportionate step we can take to promote the licensing objectives is the revocation of the premises licence.”