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January 26, 2023

A shop previously notorious for selling illegal cigarettes and alcohol has been refused a licence despite a new owner attempting to take over the business. Best Quality Food & Wine, 59 Western Road in Southall, is still not allowed to sell alcohol despite the prospective owner pledging to follow the law.

Police and licensing officers were not convinced that the previous owner, who was caught multiple times breaking the rules, would not have ‘control’ over the store. Just two months ago officers claim they found a worker at the store hiding illicit cigarettes in his socks.

The convenience store had its licence removed in 2022 after a number of incidents. In 2017, licensing officers claim they discovered the shop was selling illicit make-up, alcohol and uncertified pornographic DVDs, and three years later illicit cigarettes, cigars and Indian tobacco were said to have been found.

In November, after the licence had been revoked, licensing officers revisited the store with the Home Office immigration enforcement team. They said two men who should have left the UK in 2004 and 2005 were found working in the shop, and one of the workers was “found to have illicit packets of cigarettes hidden in his socks”.

On Wednesday (25 January), the new prospective owner, Tajbir Singh Arora, appealed to the Ealing Council’s licensing sub-committee to let the shop sell alcohol once again under his ownership. Mr Arora explained that he was in the process of buying the store from the previous owner and licence holder, Jasbeer Singh Kapoor.

The opportunity to buy the convenience store was said to have been presented to Mr Arora during a visit to the temple after Mr Kapoor decided to sell the business after losing his licence. Mr Arora, who has four years of experience working in Southall off-licences, said his offer of £25,000 to buy the shop was agreed.

He said, “This area is very good, I know my community lives here and there is a potential to buy the shop. I am getting help from my friends and family members so I can buy the shop and I can run it myself.

“I have full-time four years of experience, I understand how to run a shop, how to sell alcohol, how to run a till and how to do cash and carry. I will not do any illegal things in my shop, I will not keep cheap alcohol I will not let any street drinkers in my shops, I will do everything right.”

The panel heard that Mr Arora had only paid £5,000 as a deposit, and he claimed he would pay the final £20,000 once a licence was granted. Surendra Panchal, the licensing consultant, explained that it was “not worth” Mr Arora buying the shop outright without a licence.

Without the sale of alcohol, the shop takes in just £3,000 to £4,000 but with alcohol, it is expected to make much more per week, Mr Arora explained. But, police and licensing officers at the hearing were concerned that Mr Arora would not have the finances to pay back his debts, buy stock and afford the shop’s rent.

It was also noted that there were no legally binding documents proving the sale of the shop from the previous owner, nor were there any financial agreements between Mr Arora and the people who had given him money. Mr Panchal assured the panel that they will be produced within six months of the meeting but the situation did raise concerns for police and licensing officers present at the meeting.

PC Kerry Smart said, “Given the circumstances of the previous premises licence holder, I think the police are well in their rights to have concerns over this application as there is no lease-management agreement in place at all. There are serious concerns… over the financial position.

“The applicant has very little experience in operating a licenced premises within a special policy area. He doesn’t have his own funds, he is borrowing a lot of money from people without any legally binding documents.

“The police still believe the previous owner still has some form of control over the premises as he is still paying business rates. The police are not convinced that the applicant is responsible to promote the licensing objectives.”

Licensing officer Bob Dear, who previously raided the shop, urged the licensing panel to refuse the license. He expressed concerns that the shop is in a Special Priority Area that already has 20 off-licenses within a 500-metre radius.

He said: “There are just too many off-licenses. Figures show that street drinking-related incidences, there are 32 in Greenford and 130 in Southall – that is a 400 per cent increase between the two.”

Mr Dear was also concerned that the previous owner would still have control over Best Quality Food & Wine. He said: “[Mr Arora] was just given the keys by Mr Kapoor, what’s to stop him from giving the keys back to him?

“Yes there will be a condition that he has no involvement in running the business or the accounts, but it doesn’t stop him from collecting rent off of Mr Arora if he keeps the lease in his name.”

Ealing Council’s licensing sub-committee refused to give the shop a new license. Chair, Councillor Munir Ahmed, said, “The premises and the area have a problematic history.

“The licensing sub-committee was not satisfied the applicant had sufficient experience to take on this premise with its history of licensing control in an area associated with street drinking. The licensing committee were also concerned with the lack of clarity with regards to the business arrangement between the applicant and the previous leaseholder.”


Megan Stanley - Local democracy reporter


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