Reducing the Strength: retailers in Middlesbrough refuse to cave in

29 July, 2015

Shopkeepers in Middlesbrough are refusing to cave in to pressure from the authorities to adopt a Reducing the Strength scheme that will damage their businesses.

The council and local police force want retailers in the Gresham ward to strip shelves of beer and cider above 6.5% abv and it allegedly told them about a store called Multiculti that had agreed to change its licence accordingly.

But store owner Ali Mohammed had just been caught with 11,000 cigarettes in his store and fined £12,000, and he allegedly told fellow traders he was pressured into accepting the condition in a bid to keep his licence.

Now Mohammad has lost his licence to sell alcohol in a hearing after principal trading standards officer Sinead Upton decided she had “serious concerns” about his business and said “he is not an appropriate, responsible person to be involved with an alcohol licence”.

One retailer told OLN: “They held him up as a shining example, and now we see this in the paper.”

The retailer was asked to join the scheme but – after reading about cases across the country where shopkeepers have stood their ground and refused to join, or have sued the council for damages – he has resolved to continue selling the products.

He said: “I am not going to withdraw them. I am not breaking the law. None of the people in this area are capitulating. The only person who did is the one put under pressure by the police.

“They are trying to damage my business. If we don’t sign up they told us they will find other ways to get us to sign up through health laws.

“If they force it on me I will go to court and claim damages. They would be taking away a large percentage of my revenue and I am worried.”

One retailer said he was called into a meeting with a police officer and a council officer and was told about Mohammed’s decision to stop selling beer and cider at 6.5% abv and above.

He said: “They should not be telling me about another store joining this scheme. That is divulging information about a rival retailer’s business plan and I am breaching competition law because I know about another store’s intentions.

“I spoke to Mr Mohammed and he said he was pressured into joining this scheme. They have leaned on him.

“I have broken the law by doing so but I have spoken to other retailers and learned that they are not going to accept this scheme.

“I was told not to discuss this with other people as it could break competition law. What do you do if you come out of a meeting? You think, ‘what the hell is competition law? Can I research it?’

“Mr Mohammed clearly doesn’t have the ability to research it. In my naivety I went to Multiculti and talked to him, and the police instigated that. I wouldn’t have talked to him if I hadn’t been called into that meeting. They incited me to break the law. 

“I don’t want to lose my business but I won’t be dictated to or threatened.”

He added: “All the customers I have talked to say they would go elsewhere if I didn’t stock these products. It’s just displacement.

“The people I serve have already been vetted. There are no chavs or idiots. I’ve been here for years and that has allowed me to wheedle out the criminal types.

“That bottle of Bella or Frosty Jack’s just forms part of a total shop. When somebody comes in to buy that she might also buy Kleenex, fish fingers and an energy drink.

“But if the Bella isn’t there she’ll go elsewhere to do her shop. If I put a condition on my licence, suddenly I have lost my competitive advantage.

“The police and council are working on a remit that’s not business-friendly.”

OLN has asked Middlesbrough council about the scheme but is awaiting a response. 

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