Midland Road shop keeps alcohol licence despite selling to children

Lamberts Midland Road
Image: Google, Streetview (Aug 2018)

A shop in an area of Bedford, described as “rife with anti social behaviour and drunks fighting in the street” has been allowed to keep its alcohol licence despite being found selling alcohol to children twice.

Bedford Borough Council’s Licensing Sub-Committee met today (24 June) to decide on whether Lamberts on Midland Road should lose their licence.

Bedfordshire Police were supported in their case to revoke Lamberts’ licence by both the trading standards and licensing departments of Bedford Borough Council.

But, instead, the committee allowed the licensee, Mahalingam Pongaimaran, to keep selling alcohol so long as he complies with new conditions.

These included stopping the sale of certain brands of alcohol that are popular with “street drinkers”.

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Local resident and campaigner, barrister Karen Boyes, told the sub-committee: “The licensee is not a fit and proper person. On at least two occasions I have seen drunk people staggering, clutching cans, as they head to the check-out.

“They were allowed to queue jump and purchase items. It is quite distressing when somebody is that drunk. It is reprehensible that they are being given more alcohol in the state they are in.

“They are buying high-strength cider, and on request are being provided with plastic beakers so they can share it out.”

She added that the area suffered from drinking, fighting and women being “insensible” in the street.

However, Lamberts’ barrister, Leo Charalambidis, said he was “embarrassed” on behalf of Bedfordshire Police for a “poverty in evidence” to back up their claim that “the area is synonymous with crime and Anti Social Behaviour, much of it associated with the consumption of alcohol.”

No data was provided to support the assertion.

PC Darren Welch, representing Bedfordshire Police said they they carried out test purchases after concerns were raised about sale of alcohol to people under 18 at the shop.

Two purchases were carried out last year. One on 5 October involving two 15 year old police cadets, and one on the 22 November with two volunteers aged 15 and 16.

It was not contested that in the first test purchase teenagers were able to buy two bottles of Stella Artois, and in the second a bottle of Echo Falls without being challenged by shop staff.

“We do not carry out test purchases if there are no concerns, we don’t have the capacity for that,” said PC Welch.

“Home Office guidance is that it is unacceptable to sell alcohol to children. Further measures in our view would not have made much difference to whether the test purchases were made or not.”

The committee of three councillors heard that two £90 fixed penalty fines for selling alcohol to under aged children have been paid.

Bedford Borough Council’s Licensing Sub-Committee chair, Cllr Alison Field-Foster

Mr Charalambidis suggested a series of conditions to ease concerns about antisocial behaviour.

He also said staff at the shop had received training, and the fact they had employed a barrister to support them indicated that they were taking the issue seriously.

“The cumulative impact of alcohol in the area is not an issue for this review,” said Mr Charalambidis. “You should attempt to find a solution to the issue at hand.”

He argued that extra conditions on the licence formed the “most proportional course of action” for the committee. These would include not selling “ciders that have never seen an apple” and other brands to be listed and which “everyone knows”.

“The shop has been a part of the local community for a long time, and was valued by some of the community,” he added.

Mr Charalambidis contended that the evidence he provided was “balanced” while that of the police and others was “extreme”.

Following an adjournment after the round table discussion sub-committee chairman, Cllr Alison Field-Foster (Con, Harrold) said, the committee had decided “not to revoke the licence, subject to an agreement to conditions.”

Words: David Tooley, Local Democracy Reporter and Paul Hutchinson

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