Off-licence sold booze to children

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AN off-licence accused of selling vodka to a child who was later the victim of a sex attack has kept its licence.

Premier Express – which trades as Ray’s Convenience Store – was caught selling booze to three under-18s in police stings.

Officers also claim the Borough Road shop sold cider and vodka to another teenager in May, who was later a victim of a sex attack while drunk.

Police and trading standards applied to Sunderland Council for the store’s licence to be revoked.

Sarah Howson, licensing co-ordinator for Northumbria Police, said: “Youths under 18 are more vulnerable when drunk, particularly when they have been drinking excessively and when unsupervised, as is often the case with street-drinking.”

In a witness statement, Community Support Officer Deborah Chaytor said Borough Road and West Sunniside were plagued with antisocial behaviour by drunken youths and adults.

She added: “We get calls from the public on a daily basis in relation to drunken behaviour, verbal abuse and people urinating in the street.

“I believe one of the main problems is due to Premier Stores on Borough Road selling known offenders alcohol all day and up until 9pm.”

She added that most of the youths and adults buying the booze lived in the YMCA, Tatham Lodge, Camrex House and the Norfolk Hotel – known for housing challenging tenants.

Trading standards and police used under-18 test-purchasers to check if the Borough Road shop staff were diligent in rooting out underage drinkers.

On May 21, a 16-year-old boy was sold four cans of Fosters lager.

While officers waited to speak to staff, another under-18 not involved in the sting was sold two bottles of vodka which he intended to pass on to even younger children.

Shop owner Usman Ali was interviewed in relation to the offences on June 10 and discussed his policies. But his staff were caught out again on June 29, when a 15-year-old was sold four cans of Kronenberg.

Mr Ali, whose Hendon Discount Stores chain owns six shops and employs 30 staff, said he had since completely overhauled the business, installing CCTV cameras and an electronic point of sales system to prompt staff to check ages.

He has also hired a licensing consultancy firm to train his staff more thoroughly.

He said unbeknown to him, one of the women caught selling booze to the test purchasers had had major problems in her personal life at the time, which affected her ability to do her job.

Mr Ali’s solicitor questioned police claims that problems in the area were largely blamed on his client’s shop and said no information on specific incidents had been presented to the committee.

He said officers had not contacted Mr Ali about the sex attack and no tangible evidence had been put forward to link it to his store.

Mr Ali said he had had no problems at any of his other stores and had done everything he could to tackle what issues there were at Ray’s.

The council’s licensing panel allowed the store to keep its licence, on condition it continued with new policies, systems and training.

Chairwoman Councillor Amy Wilson told Mr Ali: “We were very close to revoking the licence, and if you hadn’t had the actions in place it would have been.”

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