By Nic Marko, Local Democracy Reporter
A Hartlepool convenience store has had its licence suspended for six weeks following concerns around “illegal vapes” being sold.
Lifestyle Express, known as Top Shop, in Jesmond Gardens faced a hearing following complaints around illicit electronic cigarettes sales.
Hartlepool Borough Council trading standards representatives visited the store and in May a test purchase was made by an officer, who was sold an Elux Legend 3500.
The product, which “cannot legally be sold in the UK”, was taken “from a concealed and out-of-sight place behind the counter”.
In June local authority officers and Cleveland Police executed a search warrant at the shop and the flat above where “1,214 non-compliant devices were seized with an estimated total street value of £12,140”.
The case went before the local authority’s licensing sub-committee on Tuesday (August 29) where it was decided the shop will have its licence suspended for six weeks, preventing it from selling alcohol.
Additional conditions will also be put in place which include increased CCTV coverage, extending Challenge 25 to all age restricted products, including vapes, and keeping an incident book for such items, along with invoices for 12 months.
The meeting heard vapes were seized from a room in the flat above the store and a staircase leading to it, while 75 were found across three boxes under the counter, two of which had “do not sell, to be returned” written on.
Mr Neil Harrison, senior trading standards officer, said: “This has happened due to potentially wilful negligence or a deliberate act.
“If they are responsible for selling alcohol the concern is, have things been done correctly in terms of alcohol sales too?”
Duncan Craig, representing the licence holder Aniruth Sivalingham, stressed he has not caused “any responsible authorities any issues” since taking the position in 2019 and “it won’t happen again”.
Mr Sivalingham admitted it was “his mistake”, with the non-compliant vapes delivered inadvertently following an order for legal e-cigarettes from a man only known as “Mo”.
He added after returning from a weekend away the day before the search warrant took place he ensured the store “stopped selling the devices”.
However council officers said this was “not compatible” with their test purchase, or earlier complaints.
Mr Sivalingham claimed the previous sales were remaining vapes from boxes bought several years prior and he issued a final warning to the staff member who sold them.
(Local Democracy Reporting Service)