Wolverhampton shop where illegal immigrant was found loses licence

By Joe Sweeney, Local Democracy Reporter

Phoenix Express and International Food, in Parkfield Road, Wolverhampton (Photo via LDRS)

A shop in Wolverhampton where more than 8,000 counterfeit cigarettes were seized and an asylum seeker was found to be working illegally has had its licence revoked.

Phoenix Express and International Food, on Parkfield Road, was visited by Trading Standards and police on September 23, following a complaint alleging that illegal cigarettes were being sold at the premises, which is in the Blakenhall ward, along with single sales of alcohol above 6.5% ABV.

Upon entry, officers found one man behind the counter who confirmed he was illegally present in the UK and was arrested. Home Office checks revealed he had an outstanding asylum claim with no work permit.

Another man was also found to be living in makeshift accommodation at the back of the shop and referred to immigration. Further checks confirmed he had valid leave to remain in the UK.

It was claimed the man arrested was covering for the member of staff who was sleeping at the back of the shop. It was also alleged the individual found behind the counter had no right to work in the UK and an illegal working notice was served on site. He was then asked to leave the premises.

Senior Trading Standards officer Nicola Biddle told the licensing sub-committee: “More than 8,000 cigarettes and a kilo of hand-rolling tobacco was seized on suspicion of being counterfeit, evasion of duty and failing to bear statutory health warnings. In addition, 44 disposable vapes were seized as the tanks contained more than the permitted amount of e-liquid.

“Illicit tobacco products and vapes containing nicotine were also discovered concealed behind a mirror in makeshift living quarters and in a car registered at the premises that was being used as a storage container. It was also noted that neither the licence summary nor the statutory tobacco notice were displayed. I recommend councillors consider revoking this licence.”

Section leader for licensing Amitabh Singh said: “A senior licensing officer has attended Phoenix Express and International Food on a number of occasions. I want to specifically highlight three visits where trader notices were issued.”

The first took place on February 10, 2022 and during the visit, ‘several breaches were discovered’.

Mr Singh continued: “These included CCTV not recording for 31 days, alcohol training records not documented, no three-month refresher training and no designated public place order sign displayed. No sales of single cans or bottles of beer, lager or cider with an ABV above 6.5% are to be  permitted from the premises – they were selling these – and there was no refusal or incident book.

“A follow-up visit was then undertaken on September 8, 2022, when no designated public place order notice was on display again. CCTV was still not recording for 31 days and the times and dates on the CCTV were not accurate. There was also still no documented training records or refresher course, no fire alarm and the fire extinguisher was out of date,” he added.

“Single sales of cider with an ABV of above 6.5% was observed whilst the officer was on site, and again there was no refusal or incident book. The single sale of beer, lager or cider with an ABV above 6.5% was still on display.

“A further visit on November 1, 2022, uncovered further breaches. No licensing summary was on display, no alarm system could be seen, CCTV was still not recording for 31 days and there was no documented staff training or refresher training, including Challenge 25. The evidence submitted demonstrates that there has been a failure to uphold the licensing objectives.”