Northampton councillor responds to £1,500 fine for family's shop after underage teen was able to buy cigarettes

Councillor Suresh Patel's family's business was fined 1,500 following a test purchase operation.
Councillor Suresh Patel's family's business was fined 1,500 following a test purchase operation.

A Northampton councillor has responded after his wife and family business were fined £1,500 this week for selling cigarettes to a teenager in a test purchase operation.

Borough councillor for Old Duston Suresh Patel says there was "so much going on" in May 2018 when Northamptonshire's trading standards team sent a 16-year-old into his family's shop at KP News and Off Licence, in Weedon Road, St James.

KP News and Off Licence, in Weedon Road.

KP News and Off Licence, in Weedon Road.

The teenager was able to buy a pack of 20 Mayfair kingsize cigarettes in the test purchase operation.

It led to the family business Eshani Ltd and director Arundhati Patel - Councillor Patel's wife, who sold the cigarettes - being fined a total of £1,500 at Northampton Magistrates' Court this week (January 22).

Councillor Patel - who is also county councillor for Duston East - spoke to the Chronicle & Echo about the test purchase.

He said: "I don't want to make excuses. Obviously, we will have to be extra vigilant going forward. It happened under stress and I'm afraid you do get caught out from time to time.

"We were in the middle of refitting the shop on the day. There was so much going on."

A press release by the trading standards team about the test purchase operation said the case demonstrated that the team "will not hesitate to take action if they suspect a business of selling age-restricted products to children" and will "continue to carry out checks and test purchases whenever we receive complaints and intelligence about underage sales."

Responding to this, Councillor Patel said he "disagreed" that the test purchase was based on complaints and said he believed it was a routine check.

It comes after the store sold cigarettes to a person under the age of 18 in 2016, although Councillor Patel says it was his daughter-in-law on that occasion. Mrs Arundhati Patel was made to sign an Enterprise Act at the time pledging not to sell cigarettes to persons under the age of 18 in the future.

Councillor Patel is listed as a director for Eshani Ltd on the Government's Companies House website - but he said this is a "mistake that needs correcting" and he hasn't been a director for 18 months.

He said: "I don't have time to be a director as a busy politician. I do help at the shop where I can. It is a family business."