A Brighton shopkeeper denied having bought stolen wine from street drinkers at a review to decide whether he should lose his licence to sell alcoholic drinks.
Melad Sitt, who runs Churchill’s Supermarket, in Air Street, Brighton, said that he was looking after the 10 bottles of wine for a friend, Dean Goodwin.
And the money that he gave Mr Goodwin was to “help him out” – to pay for a taxi so that he could take his partner home because she was “a little intoxicated”.
Mr Sitt said that he was trying to unload his car at the time and watching out for traffic wardens when an argument started outside his shop near the Clock Tower.
In what was described as “a stressful situation”, a staff member mistakenly put the wine on the display shelves rather than in a stock room because of a misunderstanding, he said.
Sussex Police, whose officers were passing by, said in a statement: “The attending police officers’ conclusion from the short amount of time they were in the store is that it was very apparent that Mr Sitt purchases wine/alcohol from the street community.
“The people stood outside waiting to come in are known shoplifters who steal in order to fund their drug or alcohol habits.”
No evidence was presented in public at the hearing to support the claim made in the police statement that the wine was stolen other than unsubstantiated references to police intelligence.
The review hearing – a “virtual” licensing panel held by Brighton and Hove City Council – went into closed session without going through the proper legal process for doing so.
It is understood that security camera footage handed over by Mr Sitt was then shown in secret to the panel.
And Mr Goodwin denied being a shoplifter in a sworn statement: “I object in the strongest possible terms to the police statement as I with my partner were outside the shop.”
He said that the police did not know his identity and he is understood not to have any convictions for theft or drinks or drugs offences.
Peter Savill, for Sussex Police, told the three-member panel: “Intelligence arose in early January this year connecting these premises with the sale of stolen alcohol.”
The review was not told of any further action or evidence until unnamed officers saw a car parked in North Street at about 11.45am on Sunday 7 June.
The police statement said: “When officers started to check the vehicle, an irate female came from Churchill’s Supermarket followed by a male and walked past the officers.
“They were both arguing about a £20 note which the male had in his pocket and the female was saying it was hers.
“Before walking away the female said to one of the officers that he got the £20 because he had just sold wine to the shop.”
Trevor Scoble, who represented Mr Sitt, said that the police had produced no evidence that 10 bottles of wine had been stolen from any licensed premises at or around the date in question.
The officers had not even taken the name and contact details of the two people who were accused of theft and handling stolen goods.
And he said, they were not arrested, cautioned or subject to any other action.
Instead, Syrian-born Mr Sitt, 47, a British citizen, of Ventnor Villas, Hove, was later subjected to unsupported allegations on the basis of inference and innuendo, Mr Scoble said.
Mr Sitt, a man of good standing, had been the victim of crime, with his glass shop front having been smashed previously.
Mr Scoble said that the police had produced a map purporting to show that the shop – also known as Air Street News – was in a “high crime area”.
But, Mr Scoble said, Air Street was not even on the map even though Mr Sitt had been a victim of crime.
Crime statistics produced by the police said that in February there were three crimes recorded in Air Street but Mr Scoble said that none were in any way linked to Mr Sitt’s shop.
He said that the police case was made out on a mistaken assumption, adding: “The police made no records whatsoever of who he (Mr Goodwin) was. The police have failed in every respect here.
“If they’d have interviewed people at the time … they’d find that he’d purchased the wine.
“The police are wrong. (They’re) leading people to believe that Churchill’s is a den of iniquity.
“It isn’t fair to make a case without saying where the wine was stolen from and when.”
Mr Sitt said that when people had stolen from the store and caused damage in the past, he had given security camera footage to the police, “but the police said they couldn’t find anyone.”
He was accused of continuing to sell alcohol after his licence had lapsed but he denied receiving a renewal letter or any other notification from the council.
And when he was contacted, after the incident on Sunday 7 June, he said that he tried to contact the council to pay the fee but no one answered the phone. He has paid the licensing fee in full.
More than half a dozen people submitted testimonies and personal references for Mr Sitt, saying that he was helpful, considerate and provided “an essential service for the community”.
It is understood that, in its secret session, the panel said that it would reach a verdict within five days.
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