An investigation by Hammersmith & Fulham Trading Standards has led to a rogue retailer being prosecuted for repeatedly selling alcohol to children.
When test purchases were carried out at the former Smokemart off-licence in Hammersmith in December 2019, two volunteers aged 15 and 17 were served with alcohol. The following month, Trading Standards Officers discovered more than 111 litres of untaxed spirits and 23 litres of counterfeit vodka in the shop.
“We were determined to rid Hammersmith of this shop endangering their customers, and children in particular,” said Doug Love, Senior Trading Standards Officer at H&F Council.
“It sends a message that we won’t allow shops to sell to children or deal in illicit goods and that the consequences are severe. Their behaviour was also unfair to our many well-run licensed retailers.”
Love added that he believed this was the worst case of underage selling he had encountered in his 32-year career. It was also the biggest seizure of spirits from a retailer that he had ever been involved in.
Following the seizure of the illicit alcohol, Hammersmith & Fulham Trading Standards received further complaints from the Met Police about the shop, as well from local school staff and parents.
In one shocking case, a local Year 11 boy ended up in A&E after drinking vodka allegedly purchased from the retailer.
The shop’s staff were also accused of giving a free bottle of vodka to a boy as a 16th birthday present. The reports said that children were regularly supplied the illicit alcohol at the back door to avoid detection and had to pay more than the normal price to obtain the spirits.
Once alerted by Trading Standards, the licence holder for the shop – who had not been involved in running the business for some years – surrendered the licence, leaving the business unable to sell alcohol.
The 68 bottles of counterfeit vodka seized presented a significant health risk to consumers. The duty and VAT payable on the seized goods was approximately £2,350.
“We have zero tolerance for shops that peddle harmful products to children,” said Cllr Rebecca Harvey, H&F Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion and Community Safety. “And thanks to our team, these rogue traders are now out of business.”
At the City of London Magistrates Court on 11 May the defendants – Jalinder Ahuja, company director of the former Smokemart shop, and his employee, Baldev Ram – signed cautions with Ahuja paying costs of £4,237.50 and Mr Ram paying costs of £1,470.
Separately, Ahuja’s company (CM Phones and Foods Limited) was prosecuted after pleading guilty to violations of the Licensing Act, the Trade Marks Act and The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.