Shop manager stripped of licence after '£2.80 cigarette packets' sold over the counter

Mr Amer had run the shop for three years.
Mr Amer had run the shop for three years.

A shop manager has been stripped of his licence to operate after the business was caught selling illegal cigarettes.

Customers of Kubus International, on Kirkgate in the city centre were able to buy foreign VAT-free tobacco products for £2.80 a packet, a Wakefield Council licensing hearing heard.

The cigarettes, which had been imported from abroad were found stashed in a discreet compartment behind the counter by police.

Srud Amer, who ran Kubus for three years, denies any involvement in the sale of the goods, and blames it on a rogue member of staff who he sacked after officers rumbled the scheme.

The hearing was told the police's suspicions were aroused when they visited the premises in August this year and observed three customers trying to buy cigarettes.

When the staff member in charge pointed to the legal display of packets , the customers seemed "confused", officers said. One even replied, "Have you got any of those cheap foreign cigs?"

A subsequent test purchase by an undercover policeman in October confirmed their suspicions and a total of 2,350 packets were found stored underneath the counter.

Mr Amer was not present in the store on either occasion, but was brought in by PCSO Philip Brocklesby after the scheme was uncovered.

PCSO Brocklesby told the hearing that upon being told of the findings, Mr Amer appeared "calm", "pleasant" and "resigned".

He said: "If one of his members of staff had done this I would have expected him to be angry that his licence had been compromised.

"He wasn't shocked. He looked like he'd been caught out."

But Mr Amer insisted he was not aware of the sales and said he was now visiting his store less often because he was caring for his sick wife.

His solicitor, Victoria Cartmell, admitted that he had "taken his eye off the ball", but that he deserved another chance.

She said: "My client is a man of unblemished character. He has never been in trouble with the police. His shop has run for three years without any trouble at all.

"He trusted this member of staff and that staff member has betrayed his trust.

"In the past he has had people coming into the shop offering him cigarettes to sell, which he has no interest in. He has always declined these people and told them not to come back."

But Coun Monica Graham, one of three elected members who decided to remove the licence, said she was "puzzled" by Mr Amer's version of events.

She said: "I don't know how you were in this situation for so long and you didn't know this was going on.

"How could this member of staff be so sure you would not look underneath the counter yourself?"

Mr Amer responded, "I don't know, I can't answer that question." He then added: "I haven’t used that cupboard for the last year so I had no reason to look in it."

In their decision notice, the committee said they had considered a suspension rather than an outright ban, but concluded this would be too lenient.

The notice read: "The sub-committee considers the crime and disorder licensing objective to have been severely compromised and put simply, on the evidence that has been presented today gives us little confidence in the ability of Mr Amer as licence holder to be able to ensure that the objectives can be maintained."