A MINI market has been stripped of its licence after smuggled cigarettes were discovered in a hole in a wall.
The boss of Stonka in New Hall Lane, Preston, was hauled before Town Hall chiefs, after police requested a review of the premises licence.
Yesterday’s meeting was told that more than 2,200 packets of illicit cigarettes had been seized from the shop, and conditions of the licence had been breached.
But the hearing was told designated premises supervisor and licence holder Tayeb Sabir had been out of the country visiting sick family members in Iraq, and knew nothing about what had been going on.
Michael Craig, of Lancashire County Council Trading Standards, said illicit cigarettes had been sold during undercover test purchases last summer.
He said: “The store was inspected on August 4 and no offending items were found.
“We reinspected on September 2, we found in total 2,202 packets hidden in two locations, one was a vehicle parked right outside the property which the person in charge of the premises at the time had the keys for.
“The other location was a hidden cupboard, which was the first I had found in Preston.
“The cupboard was attached to the wall, but behind the cupboard was a cavity which had been knocked into the brickwork.
“The cupboard was operated with a remote control key fob, behind it was a sophisticated motorised system, when you clicked the remote control the back of the cupboard slid down, revealing the cavity.”
Licensing sergeant Tony Bushell said officers had found in September the CCTV system wasn’t working correctly, and the meeting also heard alcohol had been sold in the shop without a personal licence holder present, which was in breach of a condition on the licence.
Sergeant Bushell said alcohol was seized from the premises, but said police did not believe it to be contraband or illegal.
Paul Douglas, a licensing consultant speaking on behalf of Mr Sabir, said Mr Sabir had been out of the country when the premises was visited in September, as his mother and child had both been unwell in Iraq.
He said: “What we are saying quite simply is he did not know what was going on.”
He said Mr Sabir’s child had now moved out of Iraq and he was able to visit more easily, and asked for licence not to be revoked.
He said: “The shop has paid for treatment for his mother, the shop is paying for treatment of his child, and hopefully he will be in a position to spend more time over here.”
The premises licence authorising the sale of alcohol was revoked.