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Halifax mini-mart off-licence revoked after illicit tobacco busts

The shop in Ovenden and the illicit tobacco that was found by police and trading standards
The shop in Ovenden and the illicit tobacco that was found by police and trading standards

The premises licence allowing a Halifax mini-market to sell alcohol has been revoked by councillors who heard of a series of tobacco busts.

Members of Calderdale Council’s Licensing Sub-committee deliberated for an hour before announcing they were supporting a West Yorkshire Police application that the licence of the Ovenden Polski Sklep at Ovenden Road, Halifax, should be revoked.

A report to councillors said things had been brought to a head when a joint West Yorkshire Police, West Yorkshire Trading Standards and Calderdale Licensing raid at the premises on March 8 this year uncovered a “substantial amount” of counterfeit or illegal tobacco on the premises, and in disused premises next door believed to have been also used by licensee Mr Suliman Seiedi.

The search used a drugs and tobacco detection dog and two concealments were discovered, one in a void above a doorway at the back of the store and the other in the wooden frame of a doorway.

These were operated by an electromagnetic lock on top of the doorway and a “light switch” respectively.

Also recovered, from behind the counter, was a set of keys by which the disused takeaway premises could be entered, intelligence having suggested Mr Seiedi owned it too and a much bigger haul of 1,420 packets of cigarettes and 57 50-gramme pouches of hand-rolling tobacco was discovered.

Solicitor for West Yorkshire Police, Mr Andrew Garthwaite, told the sub-committee that Trading Standards officers had previously raided the premises in October 2014, June and November 2015, November 2017 and March 2018 before the joint raid, purchases of illicit tobacco being made in each case.

In 2014 Mr Seiedi had been prosecuted and sentenced to 100 hours unpaid work after pleading guilty to offences of selling illicit tobacco.

“Unfortunately it appears the lesson to be learned from that has not been taken on board,” said Mr Garthwaite.

In all, six test cases indicated that the licensee had not learned his lessons despite being given every opportunity, he said.

Licensing consultant John Cordingley, representing Mr Seiedi who was not present at the hearing himself, asked for the licence to be suspended rather than be revoked.

The report to the committee stated that since the licence was granted on December 27, 2013, there had been no issues brought to the attention of the licensing authority – the council – until this one.

Ovenden Polski Sklep was the local shop in the area and stocked a good range of products, he said

“It has been well-received by the local community. Nothing has been adversely received from residents,” said Mr Cordingley.

Mr Seiedi “looks realistically and responsibly at the issue because it affects his livelihood,” he said.

His client was looking to mitigate his loss by a suspension rather than a revocation.

In answer to questions put to both advocates and council licensing staff by councillors, Mr Cordingley said Mr Seiedi had not been involved as closely with the store run by a member of staff. “Things have happened while he’s been away,” he said.

Supporting the police’s request, licensing officers said in addition to being illegal it also affected other businesses who sold tobacco legally in the area, who lost out on sales.

Mr Garthwaite said the police had grounds for review in respect of all four licensing objectives set out by The Licensing Act 2003 – prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, prevention of public nuisance and protection of children from harm. These had been undermined by the illicit tobacco incidents.

Councillors had several options, including a suspension, but the committee chaired by Councillor Robert Thornber (Con, Ryburn) agreed the licence should be revoked.