By Richard Hook
The owner of a Kemp Town off-licence had his licence revoked today (Wednesday 20 April).
Ali Uktusavas, who runs Lord of the Wines in Upper St James’s Street, Brighton, lost his licence after a three-month investigation of Sussex Police and trading standards officers.
They found counterfeit and smuggled alcohol being sold at the shop, a Brighton and Hove City Council licensing panel was told.
Conservative councillor Denise Cobb, who chaired the panel, said: “We have no confidence in Mr Uktusavas’s ability to promote the council’s licensing policy.
“Therefore, we have no decision but to revoke the premises’ licence.”
The store has long attracted controversy with several residents from nearby Wyndham Street lodging complaints.
David Norton, of the residents’ association, said: “It’s been emotionally distressing having a constant street party outside our homes.
“We’ve been fighting this for eight months so we’re really glad to see the council make the right decision.”
Several complaints were made about noise, parking offences and people urinating in public.
Police licensing officers also investigated problems with staffing and signage.
PC Lee Gotting, who led the investigation, said: “I visited Lord of the Wines on 27 January to check they were maintaining two staff on duty.
“I discovered several bottles of vodka and whisky which I suspected as being non-duty paid, and had them put aside.”
After PC Gotting’s visit, the owner made a series of moves that Cat MacBeth, who works as a fair trading officer for Brighton and Hove Trading Standards, described as “extremely questionable”.
Hours before trading standards officers visited, Mr Uktusavas disposed of most of the suspect alcohol from his store, before telling officers: “My staff must have taken them home to drink.”
Cat MacBeth went on to find more than 200 bottles of whisky, vodka and wine where the duty stamp label was counterfeit or brand tests showed irregularities.
Mr Uktusavas, who owns other stores in St George’s Road and Dyke Road, was also unable to produce correct invoices for his stock.
His lawyer said: “These were just a series of unfortunate events but all explainable and not due to irresponsibility.”
He pointed to Mr Uktusavas’s record as a licensee since 2006 and said that the real problems were with the wholesaler Always4U.
However, the panel decided that the level of counterfeit irregularities combined with public discontent was enough to justify revoking Mr Uktusavas’s licence.
Mr Uktusavas indicated that he plans to appeal.
*Richard Hook also writes for Brighton Lite