Shop manager keeps licence despite 'contributing to Wakefield street drinking problems'

Continental Foods on Westgate in Wakefield
Continental Foods on Westgate in Wakefield

A city centre shopkeeper told police he didn't like coming into Wakefield because of street drinkers, despite increasing his off-licence's range of cheap high-strength alcohol.

Mahdi Rasul, who runs Continental Foods on Westgate, told officers it was their responsibility to deal with drink-related anti-social behaviour, after they challenged him about his store's sale of ciders and lagers of up to nine per cent ABV.

A hearing was told that West Yorkshire Police had asked for Mr Rasul's licence to be reviewed after they found two women downing cans of Perla Black they'd bought from the store, at 9.45am on March 1.

Although the shop was legally entitled to sell booze at that time, the cans had not been marked with smartwater - a substance used by police to help trace alcoholic drinks back to the store they were purchased from.

Mr Rasul had voluntarily agreed to the scheme, which the police have been using to tackle street drinking in Wakefield.

Although Mr Rasul was not present at the time, police were refused access to the shop's CCTV footage by the member of staff on duty.

Bodycam video played during the hearing showed the employee shrugging when asked by officers why the cans had not been marked. When they asked for the CCTV, he replied: "I know how to get it, but I don't want to do it. I'm busy at the moment."

PC Chris Schofield told the hearing that he'd visited shop two days before that incident, and saw that more super strength drinks were available.

PC Schofield said: "At the time of this visit, it became apparent that the shop had vastly increased the range of cheap ciders they were selling.

"A full section of the fridge was taken over by strong ciders, and another two shelves were taken up with Frosty Jacks (cider) and other drinks.

"Mr Rasul didn't know the licensing objectives when we asked him and he didn't appear to understand his responsibilities as a trader."

PC Schofield added: "He actually tried to throw responsibility for the problem back onto the police.

"He told us he doesn't like to bring his wife and children into Wakefield city centre because of street drinking and the anti-social behaviour that it causes, but he is contributing to that."

When the police did get access to the CCTV, they found "suspicious patterns" which showed the cameras being turned off and on at regular intervals.

West Yorkshire Trading Standards told the hearing that an undercover test purchase officer was sold a packet of Richmond cigarettes for £3.50 at the premises, though no further searches for illicit tobacco have been carried out.

Mr Rasul did not attend the hearing on Wednesday. Councillors were told it was believed he'd been out of the country for several weeks, and was only due back in the UK that morning.

A letter he'd written to the council on March 12 was read out, in which he apologised for what had happened.

He wrote: "This is the first incident that's occurred outside my store.

"I will ensure all preventative measures will be to put in place to prevent this from happening again in the foreseeable future."

The shopkeeper insisted he would no longer sell drinks above seven per cent alcohol in volume. He also apologised for the behaviour of his member of staff, who he said was "under pressure" at the time because his wife was expecting a baby.

He added: "The staff member has been interrogated and questioned about his actions on the day.

"He understands it was totally unacceptable for him to do this. He has been given a formal warning."

A panel of three councillors decided to let Mr Rasul keep his licence, though they attached several strict conditions relating to CCTV and the sale of alcohol.

The licence will be suspended for 42 days to give him time to comply.

Local Democracy Reporting Service