A Keighley store had a hidden chute that was used to move contraband cigarettes to the shop floor from a flat above.
The business’ owner claimed the work to create the chute was carried out by “rogue employees” while he was away on a visit to Iraq.
But an officer of West Yorkshire Police this week told a panel of Councillors that this excuse was difficult to believe.
Wisla International Foods, on Cavendish Street, was subject to a number of test purchases by West Yorkshire Trading Standards earlier this year.
On January 20 a plain clothes officer went to the store to carry out a test purchase. When they asked for a pack of 20 Richmond Kingsize, the man behind the counter said: “The cheap ones yes?”
The officer was sold a packet that did not include any health warnings for £4.50. The normal price is £10.50.
Trading Standards found the cigarettes to be counterfeit.
On January 20 Trading Standards inspected the store. They found five packs of “illicit tobacco” in one of the draws in the shop, and two open packs of cigarettes under the counter. When asked about these packs, an employee said: “we sell them for 70p a cigarette as cigarettes too expensive.”
In a flat above the shop they found over 4,800 20-packs of counterfeit cigarettes and 560 bags of illicit hand rolling tobacco.
Police and Trading Standards called for the licence to be reviewed, and at a meeting of Bradford Council’s Licensing Panel late last month the business’ licence was revoked.
Licence holder Ari Rafiq had, prior to this revocation, applied to extend the hours the shop could sell alcohol by an extra five hours, meaning the store could serve booze until 5am.
Mr Rafiq legally has 21 days to appeal the licence being revoked, so at a meeting of the Licensing panel held on Tuesday, 14 days after the decision, members were asked to decide whether these extended hours should be allowed.
A letter from police to the committee said: “A chute was discovered in the kitchen wall of the flat which connected directly to Wisla International Foods.
“Tobacco could be tied to a length of string which was present and lowered down the chute, behind the genuine cigarette display cabinet and popping out underneath, in the serving counter area of the shop.”
It added: “It is believed that allowing the premises to extend its licensed hours would further encourage and facilitate the sale of illegal tobacco.”
A Mr Aslan, representing Mr Rafiq at the meeting, said that the work to install the chute to sell the contraband was carried out by two members of staff while Mr Rafiq was in Iraq.
These members of staff have since been sacked.
The longer hours were needed due to the needs of the key workers who shopped there, and often work unsociable hours – the panel was told.
When asked if Mr Rafiq accepted any responsibility over the illegal cigarettes, Mr Aslan said: “Of course, he feels very bad about it. He feels really let down by the people he trusted.”
PC Lord, speaking on behalf of West Yorkshire Police, said the counterfeit cigarettes could be sold for “tens of thousands of pounds.”
Referring to a claim in the application that Mr Rafiq had run the business for six years without incident, Mr Lord said: “Clearly we don’t agree with this statement. A crime has occurred.”
Referring to the bid to sell alcohol for 23 hours a day, he said: “If he can’t get the business right in normal opening hours, extending the hours will make it worse.”
Councillor Geoff Winnard (Cons, Bingley) asked PC Lord: “What is your view that he wasn’t responsible for the problems on the premises because he was in Iraq?”
PC Lord replied: “From a police point of view, it is difficult to believe that while he was away someone was able to install a chute from the flat above to behind the counter, and he was not aware of that.”
The panel refused to grant the licence for extended opening hours.
At the meeting Mr Rafiq did not disclose whether he had appealed the original decision to revoke the licence.