‘I wouldn’t drink it myself’ - what Wisbech shopkeeper said about the counterfeit vodka he was selling

A WISBECH store which sold counterfeit vodka containing a chemical usually found in cosmetics has this afternoon had its licence revoked.

Councillors on Fenland District Council’s Licensing Committee voted unanimously to strip Wisbech Mini Market of its premises licence.

Licence holder Soran Hussein has 21 days to appeal after which the revocation will take effect.

Trading Standards officers found counterfeit Glen’s and Smirnoff vodka at the store as well as non-duty paid vodka and whisky in June last year.

They seized 205.6 litres of suspected non-duty paid spirits, with a lost revenue of nearly �2,000. The officers returned in September to find more counterfeit vodka, called Arctic Ice.

Some of the illicit alcohol contained tertiary butanol - a “denaturant more usually found in cosmetics.” The labels on the bottles were not straight - some appeared to have been stuck on - and the caps were all different.

The committee heard that Mr Hussein had bought the Arctic Ice from a “man who turned up unannounced with it in a van”. When interviewed, he stated that he “wouldn’t drink it himself”.

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Trading Standards officer Charlotte Wilson said: “I think that demonstrates that perhaps he realised that it was from suspicious sources and there was some intent to cut corners.”

The shopkeeper told councillors that he stocked more than 100 different types of vodka from all over the world. He claimed he bought the Arctic Ice because he “had never seen it before” and he “wanted to try something new”.

Officers found Mr Hussein’s staff training record to be blank and he was unable to produce invoices or receipts for alcohol. There had been no entry in the “Refusals Register” for two months.

Ms Wilson presented councillors with a series of newspaper articles, from elsewhere in the country, which reported counterfeit vodka causing liver failure, blindness and even death.

She said that “fortunately we haven’t had any reports of any customers feeling ill in the Wisbech area”.

Councillors heard that, after the counterfeit alcohol discoveries, Mr Hussein met for “mediation” with police and trading standards and agreed to a series of conditions which would restrict his licence.

But the shopkeeper did not consent to a condition which would prohibit the sale of alcohol of more than 5.5 per cent ABV.

He said that 70-80 per cent of his stock was above this strength and it would “put him at a disadvantage with his competitors”.

Solicitor Jon Payne, representing Mr Hussein, said the store had stepped up its checks, training and refusal policy.

He said that over the last four days, Mr Hussein and his staff had logged 10 incidents where they had refused to serve drinkers.

Mr Payne said: “If you revoke this licence, you send the wrong message to the rest of the trade. It would say to them ‘if you improve, we’ll still take your licence away.’”

When asked about buying the counterfeit alcohol, Mr Hussein said: “It was a mistake in my life and I will never do anything like that again.” He estimated that half of his total sales were from alcohol.

Mr Payne said: “If you deprive him of his alcohol sales, you deprive him of a very significant part of his business - maybe to the point where it would become unviable.”

Ms Wilson described the case as “at the very least lax business management and at the very worst a total disregard for the law”.

She added: “I believe that profit was being put before all else.”

Councillors considered their decision for almost an hour before revoking the licence “on the grounds of public safety and the prevention of crime and disorder”.

Councillor Kay Mayor, chairman of the licensing panel, said that during a site visit this morning they found “differential filled bottles” which gave them “cause for concern that this may also be consistent with an illicit product.”