March 25, 2023
By Robbie Macdonald, Local Democracy Reporter
A Rossendale convenience shop has lost its licence to sell alcohol, tobacco and vape products after a number of teenagers under 18 were sold age-restricted items.
And an application to transfer the shop’s premises supervisor license to the current owner’s daughter has been refused.
Rossendale Council took the action at a licensing hearing this week regarding Bacup Wine & Convenience Store on Burnley Road.
Councillors heard the area has suffered from anti-social behaviour and strong action was needed on the wine shop.
The licensing meeting also heard the current owner of the Bacup shop previously ran a shop in Bury, Greater Manchester, where illicit goods were found and the electricity supply was tampered with. This allowed power to be supplied without being recorded on an electricity metre, it was said.
Gulraiz Sharif, the current owner of Bacup Wine & Convenience Store, at 34 Burnley Road, and his daughter, Ahsia Kauser, took part in a Rossendale Council licensing hearing on 22 March.
Rossendale councillors heard from Lancashire Police and a county council trading standards officer about incidents and complaints in late 2022 about Bacup Wine & Convenience Store. The shop was previously owned by a man from Pendle but was bought by Gulraiz Sharif in August last year, it was understood.
Susan Chadwick, a Rossendale Council licensing officer, said there were some uncertainties about where the previous owner, Zahoor Ahmed, now lived. Various attempts had been made to contact Mr Ahmed. He originally gained the shop license in 2013 and was still recently listed as the licence holder and the designated premises supervisor for the Bacup shop.
However, councillors were told the main purpose of the licensing meeting was to review the shop’s licence now, after the incidents in late 2022, and to consider an application to transfer the designated premises supervisor licence to Ahsia Kauser.
Councillors were asked to especially think about licensing conditions which require children to be protected from harm and the prevention of crime and disorder.
PC Michael Jones, a Lancashire Police licensing officer, said: “It is strange to have a transfer application and a licensing review at the same time. A lot of the evidence is the same. Police requested a review earlier this year following failed test purchases which came after information from concerned parents and others last year.”
He described recent incidents in the late months of 2022 plus some test purchases. There was some uncertainty about who had been working on some occasions, although all the shop staff in the incidents were described as men.
The police officer said: “The first incident was in late October when a member of the public contacted the police, saying they had seen children behaving nervously outside the shop with one inside. One was holding a bottle of clear liquid. The member of the public could not confirm the young people’s ages but was concerned enough to contact the police.
“In a second incident, a parent said her child and friends had bought vodka from the shop and later became ill. The parent said the shopkeeper told a child to keep the bottle underneath their jacket when they went outside. The child said the shop was ‘the place to go’ and everybody went.
“A police community support officer later visited the shop to see CCTV footage. The officer was told the CCTV was not working and somebody was coming to fix it the next day. The officer gave the shop the benefit of the doubt and returned four days later. But on return, the officer was told nobody had turned up to fix it.
“This would have been the perfect opportunity for the shop to show under-age sales had not happened. But the shop did not have working CCTV.
“In a third incident , an officer was told a child had bought e-cigarette vapes for an adult. ”
Test purchases using two 13 and 16-year-old volunteers were also carried out. Two cans of lager were sold to the 16-year-old and the shop worker did not ask for any proof of age. Later, Gulraiz Sharif was given a fixed penalty notice. In other test purchases, Mr Sharif or other men working there failed to ask for proof of age, the police officer said.
Police were also unhappy with the ongoing lack of CCTV, the lack of age restriction signs, lack of a refusal log book and lack of a policy on challenging customers about their age.
Regarding Ahsia Kauser’s application to become the designated premises supervisor, the police officer firstly highlighted different spellings of her name, different dates of birth and different hand writing on her application paperwork.
PC Jones said: “The system allows for some small errors with form-filling. But these various differences raise concerns that the applicant did not fill in the forms. I find it difficult to accept that someone spells their name and gives different dates of birth. She may have had some help? But this calls into question her due diligence for someone who should be aware of licensing authorities.
“We think she has little involvement with the shop. In fact, it is her father running the business who has been linked to the breaches and to selling to a child.”
In addition, the police said the father and daughter were linked in the past to a shop in Bury, when Greater Manchester Police had recorded two incidents in 2020 and 2021, and a crime was reported about activity to bypass an electricity meter to gain power for free.
PC Jones said: “I hope all this evidence shows that doing nothing is not appropriate in this licensing review. I ask the committee to seriously considers eradicating the licence or impose serious conditions on the license.”
Ahsia Kauser. said her father, Gulraiz Sharif, spoke hardly any English. She spoke on his behalf although Mr Sharif said a few words including some apologies.
Regarding the Bacup shop, Ms Kauser said: “We are sorry for what has happened. We had problems with the CCTV system. My dad gave an electrician £400 on Christmas Day to do the work but he never came back. But the CCTV is being sorted.
“With shop staff, we had two other people working there on shifts but we didn’t train them properly. We were desperate for staff. Also my dad’s lack of English meant he didn’t understand some of the things, like signs displayed in the shop. He took some signs down when clearing-up.”
Ms Kauser said an accountant had filled in the transfer application, which was why there were some differences. She added: “I have a young child and I’d been in and out of hospital at the time.”
Then Cllr Samara Barnes, chair of the licensing sub-committee, asked Ms Kauser about the shop selling a vape to a child. CllrBarnes asked who sold it and added: “What went wrong?”
Ms Kauser replied: “I don’t know. My dad was not sure who was working in the shop. If I work there, one or two days a week, then I always ask customers for ID. If it’s my dad, he seems to have a problem with English or else he recognises the customer as a regular. But if we hire anybody in future, we will train and support them.”
Cllr Michelle Smith said Gulraiz Sharif and his daughter appeared to have taken a very long time to get their licensing paperwork in order. The business has changed hands in August 2022 but licensing compliance was months later with the first application for Ms Kauser seeking to become the designated supervisor in January this year.
Likewise, it has taken months to get the CCTV system operating, the police said.
Lancashire County Council trading standards officer Lauren Manning described her record of incidents too.
In Bury, she said trading standards officers were called to a shop in December 2020. A landlord had used bailiffs to take the shop where Gulraiz Sharif and Ms Kauser had been based.
She said police found tobacco and foreign beer and wine. But the landlord found more illicit goods. There had been a link between Gulraiz Sharif and Ms Kauser for trading in illicit goods, she said.
Ms Manning added: “We would ask you to consider revoking the licence.”
However, Ms Kauser said she disagreed with what was reported about the Bury shop. Instead, she suggested the illicit goods were left there by somebody else. She and her dad did not have access to the Bury shop. They were in a dispute with the landlord. Ms Kauser also said she gave birth at the time and was not at the Bury shop.
Then Cllr Barbara Ashworth spoke as a Bacup ward councillor but also with her health remit on Rossendale Council and links to the Community Alcohol Partnership. She is also involved with a group called Solutions, which tackles anti-social behaviour in Bacup and is linked to Bacup Family Centre.
She said: “We are trying to make Bacup a better place. The information I’ve heard today is really upsetting and depressing. It demonstrates the people running the shop do not take seriously the effects on young people’s health and well-being. I hope something serious happens today
“There has been a proliferation of anti-social behaviour. It’s not as easy to connect it to tobacco and e-cigarette sales as alcohol. But these things are all linked. The age required to buy e-cigarettes is 18. There is confusion about this. But when word gets around there is increased use. There is also some bravado about it. We need to put a lid on this.”
After discussions, councillors on the licensing sub-committee revoked the convenience shop’s licence for age-restricted goods and refused the application to make Ms Kauser a designated premises supervisor.
Cllr Barnes said: “We have listened to all the information today. It is clear that Mr Sharif and Ms Kauser’s understanding of licensing guidance is inadequate. No additional reassurances have been put in place to prevent crime or disorder or to protect children from harm.”
The shop has 21 days to appeal to a magistrates’ court.
Speaking at the end, Ms Kauser asked what the licensing ruling meant for the future. A council officer said they would have a discussion later.