Report of the Interim Monitoring Officer/Assistant Director of Legal Services attached.
The Panel met to determine a review application in respect of Harley’s Convenience Store, pursuant to the provisions of Section 52 of the Licensing Act 2003. The application for a review had been brought by the Council’s Head of Licensing on behalf of the Licensing Authority as a Responsible Authority.
Representations had also been made by one other Responsible Authority, Lancashire Constabulary and Sergeant Richard Horton and Beverley Warburton were present at the meeting.
The Premises Licence Holder (PLH) and Designated Premises Supervisor, Jacqueline Bramley was also in attendance.
In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the following:
1. Both Written and Oral Evidence presented in connection with the hearing.
2. The Licensing Act 2003
3. Section 182 Revised Guidance of the Licensing Act 2003
4. South Ribble Borough Council – Licensing Policy
Mr Justin Abbotts, Licensing Officer presented the Committee report and confirmed that all notice and procedural requirements had been adhered to. The PLH confirmed that she had received all the evidence in advance of the meeting.
The Review had been instigated by the Licensing Authority on the basis that they were of the view that 2 of the 4 licensing objectives were being undermined, the prevention of crime and disorder and the protection of children from harm.
It was reported that on 15 April 2018, the premises had failed an underage test purchase by the Designated Premises Supervisor, Ms J Bramley. Despite receiving written advice and guidance from the Licencing team on staff training and the completion of a refusal register, the premises failed a second underage test purchase on 25 October 2018.
On the 6 November 2018, Ms Bramley was invited to attend an Interview under Caution were she accepted that there was no training in place for staff, she also accepted that the volunteer who had been used for the test purchase looked well under 18 years of age and would have expected her staff to challenge her age. In the interview Ms Bramley explained that she had suffered a serious health problem since May 208 which had prevented her from running the business and confirmed that she had limited choice but to allow Chris Scott to run the shop in her absence.
Discussions after the interview, between Licensing Officers and Premises Licence Holder centred on her son Chris Scott. Ms Bramley was notified of concerns which the Police and Licensing authority had, given the fact that CCTV footage observed from the time period just before and after the failed test purchase revealed a number of suspicious and furtive transactions, whereby large amounts of cash seemed to change hands between various customers and Chris Scott.
The Head of Licensing explained that Ms Bramley accepted during discussions that better supervision of the premises was required whilst she was recovering from her illness and offered that her daughter Emily would complete the course to become a Personal Licence Holder and that Emily would apply to become the Premises Licence Holder. It was however reported at the hearing, that although Emily had been granted a certificate of qualification in early January 2019, no application for a personal licence had been made by Emily to become the Premises Licence Holder.
Ms Bramley had also promised officers that Chris’s involvement at the shop would be minimal and that she wouldn’t be going back to work until January 2019. The Head of Licensing stated that there was a lack of confidence in the management of the premises, given that there had been two failed test purchases, failure to implement licensing conditions, despite being provided with guidance from the Licensing authority and non-compliance with licensing conditions.
Turning to the representations made by Lancashire Constabulary - Sergeant Horton stated that the Police received an application to transfer the premise licence and vary the DPS to Miss Jacquelyn Bramley in January 2018. Licensing Officers conducted an interview with the new DPS when she explained that this was her first licensed premise. Advice was given to assist her in the management of the premise. Police checks were conducted and Police raised concerns with the DPS regarding her son’s involvement in the business but she confirmed that it would be minimal.
In respect of the sale of alcohol to an underage person on the 15 April 2018 by the DPS, the Police gave Ms Bramley a warning. Sergeant Horton stated that unfortunately this wasn’t the end of issues at the premises. On 5 September 2018, Police received a call from a member of public who alleged that the male worker at the shop had threatened him with a knife and chased him out of the shop. Mr Scott was interviewed and he stated that he used a plank of wood as self-defence. As a result of this incident, CCTV footage was requested from the DPS. It was explained that the footage was provided but that there was nothing on it, which meant that there was insufficient evidence for the matter to be fully investigated.
On 4 October 2018, Lancashire Constabulary attended the premise where they found a young girl and her baby standing in at the shop whilst the DPS’s son was at the cash and carry. On this occasion the CCTV monitor was not working.
On 27 November 2018, Police received intelligence that the son of the DPS was involved in the supply of drugs at the premise. A joint inspection with Police and Trading Standards was conducted on 11 December 2018 where once again there was no authority for the female staff member to sell alcohol. Three bank cards were found at the premise that did not belong to staff and a tick list believed to be for the sale of drugs was found next to the rear stockroom door.
Sergeant Horton explained that the DPS was emailed on 13 December 2018 to provide CCTV and this was followed up on 17 December 2018. The DPS made contact with Police on 19 December 2018 and she stated that the footage was at the premise ready for collection. On Police attendance a short while later, staff were trying to download the footage having just taken a call from the DPS. Police took the footage only to find that once again it had not been downloaded correctly and was only showing 17 seconds of footage. The Police believe that again, staff were trying to avoid showing footage of drug dealing.
On the following day, police attended again to retrieve the correct CCTV. The son of the DPS was working and was unable to operate the system. Police started the recording and due to the time it was taking left requesting that the system was not touched. On their return the son of the DPS was holding the USB having removed it from the hard drive.
Sergeant Horton stated that the Police believe that there is an on-going issue at the premise with drug supply. He provided that the CCTV footage showed large amounts of cash being handled and packages / money being passed between staff and customers. The DPS has acknowledged to Police that the business is not doing well and Police are currently investigating financial concerns within the company after a cash seizure.
Sergeant Horton provided that the Police’s views were that the management of the premise was extremely poor, as the current DPS is not in day to day control and is unable to manage the premises in a meaningful way, the current premise licence conditions are inadequate for the current business. Police believe that the current DPS is aware of the issues at the premise and due to being family members is not dealing with issues at the premise. Furthermore, it was explained that the Police were spending a large amount of time dealing with the premise and its workers. Police believe that the premise licence for this business should be revoked. The Panel were shown CCTV footage taken from the premises during the time period before and after the 2nd failed test purchase.
Ms Bramley was given an opportunity to respond to the representations made by the Police and the Licensing Authority. She explained that she had taken over the shop in January 2018 and accepted that she had failed a test purchase on the 15 April 2018. She was due to implement the training package provided by Licensing Officers on the 1May 2018, but was suddenly taken seriously ill. In July of last year she had a full liver transplant and was signed off by her consultant until January 2019. She sees her consultant every 2 weeks and in fact had just visited him in Leeds on the day of the hearing.
Ms Bramley accepted that she had informed Licensing Officers during interview that she would not be returning to the premises until January 2019, but because of the concerns at the shop she decided to return to work earlier, and this is the reason her name was on the staff rota when the Police visited the shop in November. She explained that the tick list in the shop which the Police had found was for customers that had been provided with credit. Ms Bramley refuted that it was a drugs tick list.
Ms Bramley also refused to accept that the Police had raised concerns with her in January in respect of her son’s involvement in the shop. She stated that the first time she became aware that the Police and the Licensing Authority had any concerns with her son was when she was interviewed by Licensing officers in early November.
In regards to the CCTV footage shown during the hearing, Mrs Bramley provided that she knew all the individuals in the footage as customers so didn’t have any concerns. There was only one individual that she did not know. In respect of the till receipts which the Police provided as evidence, Ms Bramley explained that the large sums of money were in relation to customers paying for gas, electricity and TV licence. Ms Bramley did not accept the Police’s comments made in respect of the delays/non availability in providing any CCTV footage. Ms Bramley stated that all CCTV had been provided to the Police.
Ms Bramley explained that she didn’t realise that there was a problem as she was in hospital seriously ill and was still visiting her consultant every 2 weeks. She had been concentrating on getting better and no one had informed her of any problems at the premises. Decisions were made in her absence by her partner and her son and unfortunately, she just hadn’t had an opportunity to have Emily in place as a Premises Licence Holder. Ms Bramley explained that her son Chris did have some involvement with the shop but that it was limited.
When asked why she hadn’t implemented the training between January and April 2018, when she first took over the shop, she stated that she had never run a shop before and it was a new venture for her. It was accepted that this may very well be the case but that and given that she had just passed the personal licence course in December 2017, all the training could have quite easily have been implemented. If she was experiencing teething problems she could have requested guidance form the Licensing Authority.
1. The Panel noted that there had been some serious issues at the premises, which had undermined the licensing objectives namely the prevention of crime and disorder and protection of children from harm.
2. The panel carefully considered all the evidence provided by the parties at the hearing together with the Section 182 Guidance and the Council’s licensing policy. It was the Panel’s view that the Head of Licensing had appropriately made contact with the PLH in May 2018, after she had failed the test purchase. He had corresponded with her in writing and a training package was also enclosed for the PLH due to the fact that licensing conditions were not being adhered to. This was in line with Paragraph 11.10 of the Section 182 guidance. This the panel felt was the warning for the PLH to take appropriate action.
3. However, it was unfortunate that 6 months later the premises failed another test purchase and it was obvious that the training for staff had not been implemented, as this time the PLH’s son sold alcohol to a 14 year old girl. The aggravating factors present in this sale were the age of the volunteer, she was at the younger end of the scale in that she was only 14 at the time of the test. Further aggravating factors included the number of premises that were tested on the evening totalled 11 and Harley’s was the only one to fail and the final issue was there was no documented staff training in place for the seller Chris Scott. The panel were sympathetic towards Ms Bramley’s situation in that she was taken ill in May 2018 and was recovering from a serious illness at the time of the second offence, however, from consideration of the evidence the panel was concerned that the licensing objectives had been undermined.
4. The panel noted that Ms Bramley had been granted a personal licence in December 2017 and she then took over the shop in January 2018, therefore she had from January until April to implement the training for staff and to comply with conditions attached to the licence. Nevertheless, she had been on sick leave from May and signed off by her consultant until January 2019.
5. The panel noted that during the interview in November with licensing officers, Ms Bramley accepted that there were problems at the premises and therefore returned to work earlier than planned. However, when Police attended the premises in December 2018, once again there was no authority for the female staff member to sell alcohol, together with 3 bank cards which were found at the premise that did not belong to staff/PLH. This showed that Ms Bramley had not addressed issues which had been brought to her attention.
6. From the information provided by the Police, the panel accepted that they had notified the PLH of their concerns in respect to her son early on prior to the granting of the premises. The panel were concerned that although Ms Bramley had accepted that Mr Scott’s involvement in the shop was limited, it was obvious from the evidence that he was the root cause of some of the problems. The panel also accepted that there had been some delay/non-compliance in releasing the CCTV footage to the Police.
7. The panel were concerned with the undermining of the crime and prevention and protection of children from harm objective. Indeed Paragraph 11.27 of the Section182 guidance stipulates that certain criminal activity should be taken particularly seriously, this being the illegal purchase of alcohol by minors. Paragraph 11.28 provides that it is envisaged that Responsible Authorities will use the review procedures effectively to deter such activities and crime. Furthermore, where the licensing authority determines that the crime prevention objective is being undermined through the premises being used to further crimes it is expected that revocation of the licence should be seriously considered.
8. In this case, the panel found that there were two failed test purchases committed at the premises and non-compliance with licensing conditions even though a previous warning had been given. The evidence submitted did point to some kind of criminal activity relating to drugs at the premises which was linked to the PLH’s son. It was noted by the Panel that there had been evidence submitted of numerous suspicious and furtive transactions at the premises.
9. The panel considered the steps it could take to address the undermining of the licensing objectives as stipulated at paragraph 11.19 of the guidance. It considered that the modifying of the licensing conditions would not assist as there already no compliance with the training condition, which was one of the issues. It was obvious that the management of the premises was a problem.
10. From the evidence provided by Ms Bramley it was noted that she was still recovering from her illness and therefore would not be able to manage the premises to the level required given the serious issues presented to the panel. Therefore, the removal of the designated premises supervisor was considered and it was concluded that this would have some effect in the circumstances. Furthermore, the panel agreed that a condition prohibited Mr Scott from the premises should also be included. This should be imposed as follows:-
“ The Premises Licence Holder shall ensure that Mr Chris Scott shall not be permitted to enter the premises.”
11. Mr Marshall’s suggestion for a suspension was also considered. In the circumstances, it was found that a suspension of 2 months would also be an appropriate and proportionate response. Serious criminal activity had taken place at the premises and it was warranted that in the public interest having regard to the twin considerations of prevention and deterrence, the decision to suspend the licence for a period of 2 months, removal of the DPS and a condition debarring Mr Scott was required as an appropriate and proportionate response in terms of promoting the licensing objectives.
12. Any party aggrieved by the decision of the panel, has a right to appeal the decision to the Magistrates Court within 21 days.