LICENCE REVIEW: Warning for shopkeeper after covid rule breaking
Waterloo News, in Waterloo Road, Middlesbrough, Image: Google
A shopkeeper who faced the potential loss of his alcohol licence after he was accused of breaking covid-19 rules has been let off with a warning.
Matloob Hussain Majid, of Waterloo News, in Waterloo Road, Middlesbrough, was said to have become aggressive during a visit by council officials who were concerned about face masks not being worn.
Tim Hodgkinson, Middlesbrough Council’s licensing manager, told a licensing review hearing at the Town Hall that Mr Majid had called him a “piece of s***” and referred to him as “the Mafia”.
The shopkeeper, who had held a licence to sell alcohol for 30 years, also allegedly said: “Taxi drivers might be frightened of you, but I am not.”
Mr Hodgkinson’s account was disputed by Mr Majid and his legal representative Uzma Khan.
Ms Khan suggested Mr Hodgkinson had been “bullish”, adding: “His [Mr Majid’s] case is that Mr Hodgkinson was the aggressor and not him.”
Five visits in total were made by council staff to the store in December 2020 and January 2021 with an improvement notice being issued and police also attending and issuing Mr Majid with a caution.
During the first visit on December 22, which Mr Hodgkinson described as a “fact finding mission”, he said staff and customers were not wearing face masks and there were no signs advertising the legal requirement to wear one.
He said he gave advice to Mr Majid, leaving a leaflet, and said he had been “dismissive”, describing him as “sarcastic” and “flippant”.
In January, in line with a national request from the Government to local councils, it was decided that officers from the council’s covid enforcement team would visit all food retail premises in Middlesbrough with more than 200 supermarkets, convenience stores and shops being visited.
Describing a later visit to Waterloo News with a colleague on January 26, when Mr Majid was said to have become aggressive, Mr Hodgkinson said Mr Majid was seen wearing a plastic face visor which he was not wearing correctly and which was positioned on the top of his head.
He was told this was not sufficient and he should be wearing a mask as the visor was not classed as face protection under the relevant legislation.
Meanwhile, one of Mr Majid’s sons joined the conversation and was said to have claimed that “face masks were ineffective anyway and that even Donald Trump had said they did not work”.
Mr Majid was told his licence could be reviewed if he did not comply, which was when he allegedly became aggressive.
Mr Hodgkinson said: “I was trying to explain the severity of the situation.
“It was uncomfortable, it was quite a volatile situation.
“I did not feel threatened with any violence, he was just very abusive and aggressive.
“We made a decision that we weren’t getting anywhere and decided to leave the store.”
Mr Hodgkinson described how his “heart sank” during the encounter with Mr Majid, adding: “We had hundreds of businesses to deal with and we just wanted people to comply so we could move onto the next job.
“The amount of time we have spent dealing with the gentleman in this shop is frightening.”
A statement by Mr Hodgkinson included in council papers detailing the case said: “Throughout the numerous compliance visits to Mr Majid’s premises his attitude towards compliance has been extremely disappointing and there has been a complete disregard for the legislation and he has shown no regard for the safety of his staff or his customers.
“He has been obstructive, threatening and abusive towards me to the extent that we have had to ask the police to accompany officers.”
The store’s compliance with coronavirus health and safety regulations was not said to be achieved until February 17 with Mr Majid being seen wearing a face mask on that occasion.
A statement previously given to the council’s licensing committee by Mr Majid said Waterloo News had strengthened procedures to comply with covid-19 rules, which have since been relaxed by the Government.
The statement said: “We have completed a risk assessment and addressed any concerns with appropriate action.
“The measures taken we believe will prevent and protect ourselves, customers and stakeholders from any potential incident or spread of coronavirus.”
It referred to a “clash of personalities” with council officers and said Mr Hodgkinson had acted disrespectfully and displayed a “very volatile temper”, suggesting he should undergo anger management training.
Mr Majid said his wearing of a face visor had been a misunderstanding as he genuinely believed it would be sufficient and it was also more comfortable than a face mask as he suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes.
His statement said: “Naturally I was a little angered after being disrespected in my business that I have worked hard for the last 30 years.
“I only wish that Timothy and Mark [Kearns – an environmental health officer] acknowledge that we have had a clash of personalities and to draw a line under previous verbal communication and move forward positively for the good of the community and prevention of the risk of contamination.”
Charles Holland, representing the licensing authority, said the application to review Mr Majid’s alcohol licence had been brought with “great reluctance” and it had been a course of last resort.
He said Mr Majid had shown an apparent inability to appreciate that a serious public health crisis was ongoing.
Mr Holland said in his skeleton argument that “officers were concerned to promote public safety by securing his compliance with the law, but Mr Majid appears to have treated these entirely appropriate actions as the prosecution of some sort of personal vendetta against him”.
An application for a review of the premises’ alcohol licence was submitted in January on the grounds of the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety and the prevention of public nuisance.
But the matter was adjourned several times, the application having originally been due to be considered by councillors in March.
A report for councillors said while Waterloo News had a premises alcohol licence, it was understood that alcohol was not being sold currently from the store.
The hearing was paused so discussions could be held between the two parties and briefly went into a closed session, before an agreement was reached which saw Mr Majid accept a formal warning.
Mr Holland said this was agreed on the basis that Mr Majid accepted his behaviour during the visits to the store had been unacceptable and he should have taken steps to comply with the council officers’ advice more rapidly than he did.
He said by accepting the formal warning Mr Majid was also agreeing to treat council representatives with respect and would seek to comply with their advice in the future.
Chairman of the licensing sub-committee panel, Councillor Ron Arundale said a warning would go on Mr Majid’s licensing record, but no further action would be taken.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service approached Mr Majid’s representative after the hearing, but was told he did not wish to comment.
Words: Stuart Arnold, Local Democracy Reporter
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