Brighton shop owner who sold fake prosecco waits to learn if he will lose his licence

A shop owner is waiting to hear whether he will lose his drinks licence after 90 bottles of fake prosecco were seized from his business.

Awarah Shikha, 28, who runs Sabina Mini Market, said sorry for his “mistake” at a hearing to decide whether his licence should be revoked yesterday (Monday 9 November).

The hearing was told that trading standards officers found the counterfeit Verbano and Mirella fizz on sale at the shop, also known as Tivoli Food and Wine.

They also found a fake bottle of Blossom Hill white zinfandel wine on the shelves at the shop, in Tivoli Crescent, Brighton, in March.

Mr Shikha said that he had bought the stock from a “white van man”.

But dozens of neighbours wrote to Brighton and Hove City Council before the “virtual” licensing panel hearing – to speak up for Mr Shikha.

The panel said that the “letters of support” were more akin to character references than evidence about whether licensing laws were being broken.

Mr Shikha told the panel that he had been honest with trading standards officers when they found the illicit alcohol and apologised for this and for breaching other licence conditions.

The panel was told that the breaches included the store having no “designated premises supervisor” (DPS), no record of staff training and a sub-standard security camera system.

Trading standards officer Catriona Macbeth told the five-hour panel hearing that the business had been caught selling illicit alcoholic drinks in the past.

She said that an inspection in 2017 found whisky with a false duty stamp as well as “suspect wine and beers” which could have been bought by the shop’s previous owner.

Ms Macbeth said that the purchase and display of counterfeit alcohol removed from the business on Tuesday 3 March happened before the covid-19 restrictions.

She said that there was a legal requirement for businesses to keep receipts so that all food and drink, including alcohol, could be traced.

Ms Macbeth said: “While the premises licence holder has detailed the steps and controls he has put in place, this is only as a result of this application seeking a review of the premises licence.

“If not for the discovery of illicit alcohol on the premises in March 2020, trading standards have no confidence that this behaviour would not have continued.”

Mr Shikha, an Iraqi, told the panel that he came to Britain to improve his life and was working hard.

He said that, while his spoken English was good, his understanding of written legal and technical terms meant that he made mistakes.

He added: “I co-operated with Catriona very well by removing illegal alcohol from my premises.

“I showed her downstairs and showed her what was illegal. I’ve not been hiding at all.”

Licensing consultant Graham Hopkins said that the 24 letters of support from customers were not just character references but showed that the shop did not attract crowds of teenagers trying to buy cigarettes.

He said: “We have a man who is trying his best to be a responsible operator but one who has admitted he has made mistakes.

“The views of the residents is that the shop is an asset as there is not much around there during the ongoing pandemic. Mr Shikha and his staff go out of their way to help customers positively.”

Christina Summers

Mr Hopkins said that without the alcohol licence the shop would not be viable. He said that Mr Shikha bought the illicit wine from a cold caller who had promised to return with a receipt but was never seen again.

And he said that he would work with Mr Shikha and provide training and support good practice.

Former Green councillor Christina Summers spoke on behalf of neighbours who said that Mr Shikha had transformed the shop since taking over in 2016.

He had not tried to hide any of the mistakes that he had made, she said, adding: “If we were to penalise him and solely go by the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law, I think the impact on him would be tremendous.

“If he loses his licence, his business is going to fold because there is no way he, his wife, a baby and little girl will be able to maintain that business and it will impact on the community.”

Labour councillor Jackie O’Quinn, who chaired the panel, said: “A lot of the residents were not aware of the terms of the review. Some are under the misapprehension that there was public disorder around the shop. Obviously, there has been nothing of that nature stated.

“It has been more about the illicit alcohol being found and the fact that the terms of the licence have not been understood.”

Councillor Jackie O’Quinn

Councillor O’Quinn said that anyone running licensed premises should know about the law and policies governing the sale of alcohol.

Another member of the panel, Conservative councillor Dee Simson, said: “Do you believe we should brush aside and overlook the illegal practice of selling smuggled alcohol which is a criminal offence?

“And what message would you think this would send to other premises in the city.”

Ms Summers said that it was not just wrong but illegal – but she said that Mr Shikha realised the gravity of the situation.

Sussex Police licensing officer Mark Thorogood said that the force carried out its inspection in August – after a trading standards officer found counterfeit and smuggled alcohol on the premises.

Inspector Rob Lovell found that the security cameras did not cover the whole shop and had the wrong time stamp.

Councillor Dee Simson

The licence was not correctly displayed. there were no staff training records and the designated premises supervisor (DPS) left the business in 2016.

Council licensing officer Donna Lynsdale ordered the shop to selling alcohol in September after learning that the DPS was no longer working there.

She said: “It seems that Mr Shikha has no understanding of the responsibilities of holding a premises licence.

“During a telephone conversation, he confirmed he had never read the premises licence or conditions.

“I have little confidence that this situation will change and the premises licence conditions will be adhered to.”

The panel of three councillors retired to make a decision which will be made public within five working days.

  1. John Roberts Reply

    Refugee family with two young kids who work hard and very long hours to establish a new life but find they and their staff are targeted by the police and authorities in an attempt to have their local business and local community asset shut down. Mmm. Can’t think why.

  2. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    Former Head of Licensing, Tim Nicholls always said that one should not buy wine from a newsagant. There is a risk that it will be counterfeit. This one admits that he bought it from a bloke with a white van. Where else has that van supplied? Is it funding drugs? Residents deserve better than this shop.

    • Elissa Reply

      Are you a resident of Tivoli Crecent?

  3. Lydia Samuel Reply

    This shop is a fantastic asset to our local community and has been absolutely vital during lockdown. The staff are always friendly and courteous. This is an honest mistake and should be seen as such. This business should be supported and training given rather than being penalised and shut down. We all need to pull together and support each other.

    • Elissa Reply

      I agree

  4. Hove Guy Reply

    I wouldn’t even trust him with a bag of crisps. Goodness knows what was in that counterfeit alcohol. That might have lead to a serious illness or a fatality. And trust a former Green councillor to play down the danger.

    • Elissa Reply

      As your name is Hove guy I presume you don’t live here and you don’t know this family. Those of us who live locally want to support him and what is needed is improved support and guidance.

      • Hove Guy Reply

        What difference does it make where I live? This website is for Brighton & Hove News, and the article appeared on it. The law is the law and he delierately broke it in a very serious manner. This is not a minor driving offence, but one that could have affected the health of others. Support him, by all means, but don’t try to pretend that he is innocent.

    • Christopher Hawtree Reply

      Christina Summers should be called a “former Independent councillor”. She was obliged to leave the Green Party after a couple of fundamental disagreements. (That said, I always tried to speak with her, and I think we did well when she was my Deputy on Planning.) Equally, I agree with you about what might be lurking – anti-freeze? – in counterfeit wine. There should be steps taken to trace the crook who supplied the fake wine, which could cause livers and brains to explode. That is why we have Licensing Laws, and Councillors to enforce them. If that shop is viable, there will be others to take it on.

      • Nigel Furness Reply

        Absolutely RIGHT, Christopher; that’s the spirit!
        This city is awash with outlets purveying alcohol be it off-licences, newsagents, supermarkets and corner stores on the one hand to even florists and funeral directors on the other; it seems that everone who is anyone in business these days just HAS to get in on the act! WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?
        Speaking as a former local publican (albeit many moons ago), I can assure you that holding an alcohol license is (or was), a highly responsible position which in my day carried with it ONEROUS consequences for even the slightlest infringement of the law—one strike and you’re out—and I don’t just mean of your business—you could also have found yourself IN the Dock and possibly BEHIND bars!
        Whilst on this subject, I see no mention in the article as to whether, once the Licensing Panel have delivered their verdict, this miscreant, is to be brought before the local Magistrates; I DO hope so since I, peronally, gathered evidence over a period of time against a food outlet in an Alcohol Restriction Zone which was flagrantly supplying alcohol, against the terms of it’s licence, THROUGHOUT THE NIGHT to inebriates who were making the lives of residents in the surrounding areas atotal misery.
        I testified for the police at a meeting of the Licensing Panel and the proprietor, who jumped to his feet and made to attack me, quite rightly was stripped of his licence and had certain of his assets grabbed for good measure!
        Now here’s the rub; would you believe that his solicitor, whilst apologising to the Panel for his client’s “Totally out of character behaviour,” declared that he was “Stressed out because his neighbours had it in for him!” He then went on to say that this man had fled Persecution in Iraq and that if he lost his business his family back home would starve.
        HMM, indeed to your commentator John Roberts!!!
        In conclusion, the Law is there for a purpose so PLEASE let’s have an end to all these silly SNOWFLAKES and their sanctimonious excuses ( you too, Christina—I’m surprised at you); it’s worth remembering that if the aforementioned two miscreants had been caught plying their wicked trade in their former country of origin, a sound flogging would have awaited them—oh! and that was in pre-IS days.
        FOOD FOR THOUGHT!, METHINKS!!!

        • Officer G Reply

          Nigel Furness, if I was a policeman I would arrest you first. A ten year spell in jail is what you deserve for your comments on this website.

          • Nigel Furness

            For what, pray tell, Officer G? helping the local residents, the local councillors and the police OR for TELLING THE TRUTH?
            Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you but as yet it is not an offence to speak the truth—although I’m quite sure that in this “NEW NORMAL” age of Government by diktat the Powers That Be have a cunning trick or two up their sleeves!
            The trouble is that there’s equally no legal means of dealing with the purveyors of FAKE NEWS, mainly emanating from those Fascists of the Left!
            If I may say, I’m delighted that you’re not afraid to express an opinion but, a part of your problem is that you fail to back it up with either facts or reasons.
            My advice? Try harder to engage your brain prior to opening your mouth—then, perhaps, we just MIGHT be able to engage in a CONSTRUCTIVE dialogue!
            I live, as always, in hope.

  5. George Miller Reply

    I live nearby. I’ve used the store a few times. Always lovely and friendly people there. Definitely never seen any public disorder or antisocial behaviour round there. I have the following stories to share: Once I withdrew £20 from the ATM in there, which came out as 2 new £10 notes. I purchased a chocolate bar with what I thought was one of the £10 notes and left, but then the next day I noticed that I had change for the used £10 but not the other unused £10 note on me. I returned to the store to see if I’d mistakenly given them both £10 notes (maybe stuck together). Although I may not have lost the £10 note in the shop and they couldn’t verify if my lost £10 was there, they were still very willing to just give me £10 from the till to help (an offer which I declined to accept). I thought that was very noble of them. However, on another occasion I bought a bag of ice from there for drinks at home in summer. The family members who had ice in their drinks got sick – tummy upset. Those that hadn’t had ice in their drinks didn’t get sick. I noticed that the ice smelt “funny” – like maybe stale meat juices smell or something when I took it out my clean freezer. I put it in a bowl and let it melt, the resulting water was not clean and had unidentified bits in it. I don’t really have a point but thought I’d share my experiences with this store. I suppose for me, the people are very nice and honest, there is no antisocial disorder going on, but maybe they have been let down, or even taken advantage of, by their suppliers (legitimate or not)?

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