Northampton shop owner 'dodges a bullet' after second reprieve for illegal workers

The suspension was handed down at The Guildhall this afternoon
The suspension was handed down at The Guildhall this afternoon

An off-licence owner was told he had ‘dodged a bullet’ as his store was allowed to stay open after an illegal worker was discovered at two of his Northampton stores.

Kenmuir Avenue Convenience Store had its licence suspended for three months this afternoon (March 6) after a man with no right to work in the UK sold a bottle of Strongbow to a 15-year-old test purchaser.

That sale came just nine days after the same Northampton Borough Council licensing committee suspended the licence of its sister store in Kingsley, Fairfield News, for employing the male in the first place.

Although he had no right to work in the UK, the man was found working behind the counter at Fairfield News on October 4. Northampton Borough Council’s licensing sub-committee met on December 6, and told the designated premises supervisor Amirthalingam Krishnakumar that he ‘had been lucky’ not to have the licence revoked. Committee chairman Councillor Brian Sargeant warned Mr Krishnakumar ‘not to do it again’.

But just nine days after the warning, on December 15, the same male worker was caught selling booze to the underage girl at the second store in Kenmuir Avenue. He was issued with a fixed penalty notice by police at the time.

The second offence landed Mr Krishnakumar in hot water, and he was hauled in front of the licensing sub-committee again today. But he told the councillors he had been ‘let down’ by the manager of the other store, his sister-in-law, who says she allowed him behind the counter while ‘she used the toilet’. Police argued that the man had been working ‘for at least half an hour’ before the undercover test purchase, and showed the committee CCTV footage of the build-up to the sale and the transaction itself.

To make matters worse, a second illegal worker was discovered at the Kenmuir Avenue store on a second visit by police on February 20. Mr Krishnakumar’s representative, Frank Fender of FJF Licensing Solutions, said that due diligence had been carried out, but that he had been ‘duped’ by forged documents.

Mr Fender said: “On the face of it, it looks bad for the licence holder. But it is important to hear the circumstances behind it.”

He outlined how the illegal worker, who was now on bail after applying for asylum from the Home Office, was visiting friends at the family-owned store when the female manager allowed him behind the counter, despite him being the subject of the council review just days earlier. Mr Fender said that Mr Krishnakumar did not know this had happened, as he was working at the Fairfield News store at the time.

Mr Krishnakumar has since fired his sister-in-law as the manager of the Kenmuir Avenue store, but councillors were told that she continued to live above the shop.

Mr Fender also said that his client had carried out ‘appropriate checks’ with respect to the second illegal worker who was discovered on February 20, saying: “He has been fooled by very good copies of documentation, which appeared to show that he had the right to work in the country.”

PC Chris Stevens, of Northamptonshire Police, said the force had called for the review of the store because they felt that the council committee should look at revoking the licence.

In his written statement, he said that the licence holder ‘continued to have no regard for the law’ when it came to using illegal workers.

Summing up, PC Stevens said: “These were not best efforts of the manager or the staff. Regardless of whether he was there or not, he was responsible and it falls on him. In the police’s opinion, it all points to revocation of the licence.”

But Mr Krishnakumar, who at times was in tears at the meeting, was narrowly granted a second reprieve by the committee, which was split on the decision.

They eventually decided to impose a three-month suspension of the licence at Kenmuir Avenue, with a host of strict conditions, including that only valid licence holders can sell alcohol from the premises.

Committee chairman Councillor Sergeant told the licence holder: “You’ve dodged a bullet today. I was very disappointed after our last hearing that you gave your word, and that you broke that. I was personally disappointed. We don’t want to see you here again.”

Fellow committee member Councillor Graham Walker added: “I sat here at the last meeting, and we felt that you would put everything else in order. You are a very lucky man that it has not been revoked today. If there is a next time, there’s no coming back from it.”

And third member Councillor Gareth Eales said: “We think this is a proportionate outcome. There are very strict conditions being put in place so that we can protect the people of Northampton and ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Mr Krishnakumar was advised to adopt the same conditions for his store at Fairfield News, which had recently re-opened after its own suspension.