Dramatic moment police and council shut down shops over illegal vape sales

This is the dramatic moment police and council officers have swooped in to shut down two shops in south Liverpool over illegal vape sales.

As part of its crackdown on illicit trades across the city, officials from Liverpool Council’s alcohol and tobacco unit (ATU) joined up with members of Merseyside Police to bring the shutters down on two convenience stores in Garston and Allerton. The owners of both could face their businesses being shut down for a period of three months.

The ECHO joined the raids on both businesses - including one that had only been open for five months.

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Since the turn of the year, around 25 stores across Liverpool have been slapped with closure notices over illegal sales with more than £200,000 worth of stock seized. The crackdown has led to items such as fake PlayStation products being recovered alongside knives, a hammer and a crossbow bolt in a raid on a property in north Liverpool relating to organised crime.

ATU officials alongside the Speke and Garston neighbourhood policing team targeted two businesses on Wednesday afternoon. Michael Hearty and Jenny Davies took the ECHO out on the raids and explained the challenges they face in how businesses attempt to conceal contraband.

Michael said: “Some of the concealments are professionally done, we saw one on a magnet release. They’re making that much money, they’re taking the risk.”

Working with the police, the council and officers can employ a number of tactics to uncover hidden goods, including specially trained dogs to find vapes. Michael explained how a stronger approach to illegal activity was vital to smash the trade.

He said: “To be shut by the courts, it’s a hit. They still have to pay the rent and the bills. They think they can just pay a fine.”

Businesses are warned before they face any enforcement action, with the council writing to proprietors to advise them how to comply. If they do not heed the warnings, Michael said: “It’s up to the court then what to do with them.”

On the journey from the city council headquarters on Water Street to Garston, Jenny set out how challenges had changed for the ATU. She said: “Before covid, all our complaints were around cigarettes and alcohol, now it’s vapes.

“They (young people) don’t think vaping is a problem, it’s fashionable these days.”

Prof Matt Ashton, Liverpool’s director of public health, has long warned of the dangers of vaping for those who have never smoked before. Michael told the ECHO how in one previous case, officers seized devices with the capacity of "10 packets of cigarettes at once, it’s 10 times the amount of puffs."

Arriving at Mo News on St Mary’s Road - which only opened in February - Michael addressed the sole staff member on duty and informed the shop would be shut down as Jenny searched the premises. Police officers prevented customers from entering the location as the young woman on duty was informed the business faced a day in court this morning.

The owner of the shop was nowhere to be seen. In a matter of moments, the shutters were brought down and an enforcement notice informing people of the closure was slapped outside the door.

Michael said: “We have a really good relationship with the police, they’re really keen to get stuck in. Kids flock to wherever they can get stuff.”

The closure of the shop was welcomed by one passer by who stopped Michael to say: “There’s too much of that going on around here, I’m made up.”

The council official, a former police officer in the licensing team, added: “It goes down really well, when you turn up, people know why you’re there.”

Less than two miles away is Allerton Mini Mart on Allerton Road, where Jenny had undertaken three test purchases, which the business had failed on each occasion. She explained how when attempting to buy illicit vapes, staff had reached round the back of a drinks fridge to obtain them.

On one occasion, a member of staff left the shop and returned with the product in question. Jenny said: “We’re probably past the peak now, in some cases, places are starting to play ball.

“You’ll find nobody knows who the owner is but they turn up in court.”

Once again, officers searched behind the fridge as the shop was shut down. The lone member of staff on duty, who lingered outside once officers had left, questioned why the closure order was being handed down as officials investigated how the products were being delivered.

Under the terms of the closure orders sent down onto the businesses, nobody is permitted to enter the premises and could face a prison sentence not exceeding six months and a potential fine. Michael explained how the more direct approach was starting to bear fruit.

He said: “They’re now listening, they’re taking it on the chin and seeing others getting shut down and thinking I could go down this route.”

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