A Wirral supermarket has been allowed to keep its alcohol licence despite concerns over previous illegal activity.
After two people were found working illegally at the Family Shopper on Bedford Road, Rock Ferry, in February, the store’s licence was called in for a review by the borough council. It had been recommended the shop lose its ability to sell alcohol as a result.
However, a change of management has won round Wirral Council’s licensing act sub-committee, which has allowed Family Shopper to keep hold of its terms – with strict amendments.
A legal representative for the store told the LDRS that the sub-committee was satisfied any concerns around illegal activity taking place was due to previous ownership and management.
According to a Wirral Council report, Merseyside Police visited the premises on 1 February when some beer was found to be five months beyond its best-before date. However, the visit was cut short after “a gang of youths” reportedly attacked a constable’s vehicle outside.
A further visit took place on 10 February with police and a Wirral Council licensing enforcement officer. The report said a man working in the shop had little understanding of what was happening and was unable to answer simple questions.
The report stated the men said they were from south India and later admitted to being in the UK illegally and living above the premises working long hours for seven days a week.
The licensing panel were told a man named Mathanakaram Sevaniyakam, who claimed to be the owner of the business, was contacted. He was asked if CCTV of the premises could be viewed but failed to provide it despite repeated requests.
When asked about the two men in the shop, officers were reportedly told by Mr Sevaniyakam that they lived at an address on Worsley Road in Eccles, Manchester. This was later confirmed to be the same address where Ms Ratnarajah operates one of her businesses under PK Retail.
The two men were later arrested by police with the Home Office reportedly still investigating. In response to the allegations, Ms Ratnarajah said Mr Sevaniyakam would not be involved in the running of the business going forward.
The supermarket has since changed hands but councillors still had concerns about the new licence holder PK Retail Limited’s links to those previously involved in the business.
However, Mike Thorpe, the agent on behalf of new owner Kavi Ratnarajah, said she wasn’t involved when the illegal activity took place and is the sole director of her company. He also said an experienced employee was now overseeing the supermarket and it will be run professionally from now on.
Ms Ratnarajah, a junior doctor who previously worked at Aintree Hospital, told the committee, “I want to sort this out and move forward. I only got this granted last week so moving forward you need to give me time to prove that I can manage the store.”
She said she wouldn’t have wanted to jeopardise her profession or her business and that she had invested a significant amount of money into the Family Shopper.
The licence has been modified so management and staffing structure at the premises is monitored including people’s roles and responsibilities. A live rota must also be kept of who is working and when with staff training and refreshers every six months. All records must be available upon request.
Mr Thorpe said his client was “very happy” with the decision, adding, “I am relieved that they determined in favour of my client who has a proven track record of operating convenience stores.
“The modifications to the premises licence are not onerous and reflects the decision of the council to support this business and its new operator.”