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Appeal Court Upholds Revocation of Premises Licence Following “Modern Slavery” Review

Gary Grant

District Judge Julie Cooper, sitting at Camberwell Green Magistrates’ Court, has upheld the decision of the London Borough of Southwark to revoke a convenience store’s premises licence following allegations of illegal workers being employed in conditions akin to “modern slavery”. Peckham Food and Wine had been found, on six separate occasions, to be employing illegal immigrant workers. A broom cupboard was being used as sleeping quarters for two workers who slept on a filthy mattress with only a small electric fan for ventilation. They were being paid a salary well below the minimum wage.

Super strength Polish lager was being sold at a price so low it must have been smuggled alcohol where duty had been evaded. Numerous breaches of the licence conditions were found.

A review application was made by Bill Masini on behalf of Southwark Trading Standards. Prior to the review hearing, an application to transfer the licence was received by the council and objected to by police. The transferee was a Mr Safeer Shah who claimed to be untainted by the past behaviour and pledged to turn around the operation. Following questioning it turned out Mr Shah was the estranged husband of the premises licence holder and related to the other directors of the operating company. The licensing sub-committee refused the transfer and revoked the premises licence.

On appeal Mr Shah argued that it was wrong to judge him by his family relationships. He was his own “autonomous” individual and had demonstrated his commitment to promote the licensing objectives. Under cross-examination it became apparent that Mr Shah had been involved in the running of the business prior to the review application. It was also revealed that two of his current employees had worked at the venue when the litany of transgressions had taken place. One was, and continued to be, an illegal worker. On inspection visits prior to the appeal hearing further breaches of the licence had been found and, under Mr Shah’s stewardship, the premises had failed a test purchase exercise by selling alcohol to a 17 year old.

The Council submitted that not only was Mr Shah properly to be tainted by the previous operation, but he had failed to demonstrate the promised turn-around of the operation since he took over. The judge found him to be a discredited witness.

The Council also argued, in reliance on Griffiths LJ’s observations in R v Knightsbridge Crown Court ex p International Sporting Club (London) Ltd [1982] 1 QB 304, that it risks bringing the licensing regime into disrepute if reckless licence holders can avoid the consequences of their behaviour by simply transferring the licence into someone else’s name or selling the business when they got caught and so, effectively, get away with it. The deterrent effect of licensing enforcement would be lost and licensing authorities are right to take a robust stance against such transfers, particularly those which appeared to be a ruse.

In refusing the appeals on 28 June 2018, DJ Cooper awarded the Council its costs of over £11,000.

Gary Grant acted for the London Borough of Southwark instructed by Debra Allday of Southwark’s Legal Department.