By Aled Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter
A convenience store in central Swindon has lost its licence following a review by the borough council’s licensing panel.
The three-councillor panel was convened to look at whether Okus Store, in Celsus Grove, should keep its alcohol off-sales licence after the Home Office requested the review.
The government’s immigration team said a visit by officers had found that two people were working at the shop in contravention of their immigration status, one working more hours than allowed on their student visa and the other who was not allowed to work in the UK at all.
The submitted evidence by the immigration enforcement team said one man “was observed initially assisting customers with package collection in store but then swapped with his colleague and served customers behind the counter selling alcohol, cigarettes, and other items to customers.
“He was seen by officers operating the till proficiently.”
The submission says this man, in interview, initially said he was working 20 hours a week as allowed on his student visa but then later admitted working 40 hours a week.
One of the two licensees of the shop, Gagandeep Samra, challenged this at the hearing, saying the man was allowed to work longer in the holidays. This was agreed by the Home Office team, but it said the man admitted he was not studying at all, but said he would if he was released.
He said the other man was not working at the shop. He said the store had made necessary checks on the right to work.
The other man, who was in the UK on an academic visa for six months denied working at the shop saying he would go there to pass the time with a friend.
The Home Office’s evidence to the panel was: “On entry, he was behind the counter operating the till and serving a queue of customers selling them items and getting cigarettes etc for them from behind the till. He then swapped with the other individual and assisted a customer in finding a package they had to collect.”
Additionally Swindon Borough Council’s trading standards team submitted evidence that a vaping product had been sold to a customer under 18- which is not legal – in a test purchase the team made in March 2022.
Samra said that has been a single mistake by a new member of staff and training had been given. He added that in 30 years the shop’s staff had passed several test purchase operations.
Chairman of the panel, councillor John Balman asked what sanction either the Home Office or the Borough Council had taken.
The Home Office had decided against pressing for a civil penalty against the store, and the borough council had sent a letter after the sale of the vape.
The Home Office had given the shop a ‘no action notice’ saying it would not press for a court penalty – but it had requested the licence review.
Both the Home Office and the trading standards team said the actions they had taken were towards the lower end of the scale of sanctions.
The panel, however, was satisfied that immigration law had been broken, and that an unlawful vape product had been sold to a minor and “was satisfied that the prevention of crime and disorder licensing objective was being sufficiently undermined in a serious manner so as to warrant revocation.”
The licence-holders are able to appeal against the decision to the magistrates’ court within 21 days of being notified – and until that time expires, or an appeal is decided, may keep the alcohol licence.
(Local Democracy Reporting Service)