February 12, 2022
By Nic Marko, Local Democracy Reporter
A Hartlepool convenience store is to keep its licence, with new conditions imposed, after facing a hearing over concerns school children had illegally been buying vapes.
Hartlepool Borough Council trading standards staff called for the licensing review at Charlie’s after reports from parents and schools underage children had been purchasing disposable vapes, known as ‘Geek Bars’, from the shop.
Following this an 18-year-old council apprentice visited the Duke Street store and test purchased a ‘Geek Bar Pro’ nicotine delivery device, and no age check was carried out.
Trading standards officers then attended and found “a number of young children” were trying to buy vapes.
The council licensing sub-committee, following a meeting on Tuesday, ruled the store can keep its licence, however a number of new conditions would be imposed.
These include ensuring adequate accessible digital CCTV is in place, incident and sales refusal logs are kept, while regular staff training must occur, covering Challenge 25, which must be in place, and records of this are to be kept.
The breach of any of the conditions is a criminal offence, punishable by up to six months in prison or unlimited fine.
Abdul Rizwan, manager at Charlie’s, said as a father-of-four himself he is keen to protect young people and has never sold to those underage.
He said: “It’s very hard for me to believe that me or my staff can sell such products to children as young as 13 or 14 years old.
“I’ve been there for the last five years, the shop has a very good reputation, because the shop is concerned with the kids’ health.”
However Rachael Readman, council senior trading standards officer, said when they visited the store in November, lots of children were “congregating”, while nearby shops did “not have such crowds”.
She said: “While we were inside the premises lots of children from the age range of around 13 to 16 came into the shop and asked to purchase Geek Bars and cigarettes.
“I am very confident that had we not been at the store numerous underage sales would have taken place in that one evening alone.”
Mr Rizwan said they are aware young people will try and buy items such as cigarettes and alcohol underage, or get adults to do it for them, but this occurs at all shops.
He stressed they always ask if they suspect an adult may be buying for someone underage, and a Challenge 25 policy is in place.
He added: “When the kids come, right from the start we tell them don’t try anything. We were already strict, but now we’re even more strict.
“We are really more careful now, because this is my only source of living, I don’t want to lose that.”
He added they are looking to provide CCTV for outside the store, while a new supervisor was installed in January.
Council officers noted a number of Geek Bar Pros were also seized during the visit, which are illegal in the UK, due to the amount of nicotine they contain.
Mr Rizwan said they received the items as a “sample” from their wholesaler and he was not aware they were illegal initially.
Clare Lawton, from Cleveland Police, added they also recorded numerous reports regarding similar issues at the store, stretching from June until December last year.
Mr Rizwan said he was happy to work with police, and urged them to come forward with any issues.