Instead of introducing a minimum unit pricing on alcohol in 2014, the Government compromised and instead brought in a ban on selling alcohol “below cost” to tackle the worst instances of sales of cheap alcohol.
The minimum you can now sell a bottle of 37.5% abv vodka for would be £8.99 but a retailer in Gateshead was selling Kommissar vodka for £7.99.
Ahtsham Ghafoor, who runs a Nisa store in Coatsworth Road, Gateshead, was visited by Trading Standards officers, who received complaints from a shopper about a product that did not taste like vodka.
They analysed the seized vodka and found it contained iso propanol and t-butanol, which indicated that it was not vodka but actually industrially manufactured ethanol with an alcohol content of 23.3% abv.
The label also had different wording to the genuine product, was self-adhesive rather than glued, had no lot code marked on the cap and the duty stamp did not fluoresce when UV light was applied. The label was also of a design that had been replaced in October 2011.
Ghafoor claimed he had bought the vodka from a wholesaler near Wolverhampton and showed officers an invoice. But the owner of the cash and carry examined the invoice and stated that it was not genuine and that his company could not have supplied the vodka because it had never stocked the Kommissar brand.
At Gateshead Magistrates Court, Ghafoor was convicted of three charges relating to the sale of a product that was unfit for human consumption, selling a product that was falsely described as vodka, and of falsely declaring an alcohol content of 37.5% abv when the alcohol content was in fact 23.3% abv.
He was also convicted of selling a product for less than the cost of the duty and VAT payable on it. The law was introduced to discourage major supermarkets from selling cheap alcohol as a loss-leader and Gateshead council deduced that he had paid no duty or VAT on it.
Ghafoor was fined a total of £3,200, was ordered to pay costs of £1,331 and was required to pay a victim surcharge of £120. The vodka seized by trading standards was ordered to be destroyed.
Anneliese Hutchinson, service director for public protection, says: “This case demonstrates the dangers of buying alcohol which is suspiciously cheap.
“When you buy any product, you have the right to expect to receive what you think you’ve bought, and we all rely on shopkeepers not to sell us products that will harm us. Adulteration of food is a very serious offence and rightly so, and I’m pleased that the magistrates have taken a tough line on this case.
“While this shopkeeper has been convicted, the identity of the supplier of this counterfeit vodka remains a mystery. However, it’s well known that there is considerable organised criminal interest in the production of counterfeit spirits which are then sold to independent retailers. It’s a national problem and I wouldn’t be surprised if this case was an example of that illegal trade.
“It’s essential that customers realise that you only ever get what you pay for.”