Banbury shop allowed to keep licence despite illegal cigarette sales

International Supermarket in Banbury's High Street where illegal tobacco products were seized  by Trading Standards officers in October 2017
International Supermarket in Banbury's High Street where illegal tobacco products were seized by Trading Standards officers in October 2017

A shop in Banbury town centre has avoided having its alcohol licence revoked after illegal cigarettes were discovered a number of times in the past 12 months.

Cherwell District Council’s licensing sub-committee decided to modify the conditions of International Supermarket’s licence at a public meeting today (Friday, August 24).

Trading Standards and police found a haul of around 4,000 illegal cigarettes twice at the High Street store - plus undercover officers were able to buy illegal cigarettes three times.

The new owner argued the offences were committed under the previous proprietor’s watch, who has since left, staff are undergoing training and tobacco is no longer being sold at all.

The owner’s solicitor, who remarked that losing the alcohol licence would make the business ‘not viable’, said: “We’re not here to punish people.

“The purpose is to look at the licence objectives and stop them from being breached again and we have dealt with it.”

Oxfordshire Trading Standards recommended revoking or suspending the shop’s alcohol licence, ‘as a deterrent to promote the crime prevention objective and to protect the needs of the wider community’.

But the three councillors who make up the sub-committee decided to modify the existing licence to add conditions that the previous owner could not work there, staff must undergo a training programme and to bolster CCTV.

So what did the shop owner do wrong?

The first piece of intelligence about illegal cigarettes being sold at International Supermarket was received by police in January 2016, and the last was in March this year, when a man ran and was eventually caught with a holdall-full of them.

The man who is linked to each incident is Alan Ali Mohammed, who bought the business in 2015 and sold it at the end of last year.

Tip-offs to police led to a Trading Standards investigation, which resulted in a raid on October 23, where a sniffer dog found 4,240 packets of illegal cigarettes in a back room.

When interviewed under caution, Mr Mohammed insisted he had forgotten all about the cigarettes, who had been sold to him by a customer, and said: “I can guarantee for the next 100 years [illegal tobacco] is not going to be sold.”

But on December 17, twice covert officers were able to buy illegal cigarettes over the counter for £6 per packet, and on February, 25, 2018, again undercover officers bought a packet.

So on March 7, Trading Standard and police officers visited as part of a crackdown in Banbury - as soon as they entered, the woman behind the counter ran to the back of the shop.

Police officers went around the back and saw a man with a black holdall, who was chased up Calthorpe Street and stopped on South Bar Street - the bag contained 4,400 packs of illegal cigarettes.

In June, a shop employee told police in an interview that the illegal cigarettes she had sold to undercover officers came from the shop but she had been told to tell police that they were hers.

New owner comes into the picture

When Mr Mohammed was interviewed under caution in May, he told officers the business had been sold to Rafiq Tofiq just before Christmas, but the sale was not completed until July, 2018.

Mr Tofiq met with officers later that month and said Mr Mohammed had been managing the store since the initial sale in December as he did not live locally.

At the public meeting, Mr Tofiq’s solicitor said the previous owner no longer works at the shop and has taken ‘very serious measures to ensure these problems do not continue in the future’.

In the end, councillors decided not to revoke or suspend the licence, but added the conditions about Mr Mohammed, training and CCTV.