A convenience store in the middle of a Bristol neighbourhood has been revealed as a hub for organised crime across the city.
In scenes that sounded like an episode of BBC1 crime drama Line of Duty, police told how known drug dealers took over Speedwell Mini Market to ply their trade, preying on vulnerable children to do their dirty work.
Drivers in sports cars regularly stopped briefly at the shop in Ventnor Road to collect packages from people going in and out before speeding away, along with youngsters on bicycles, and a 10-year-old boy was seen at the till, a licensing hearing was told.
Cannabis was sold disguised in fake Skittles and Jelly Tots sweets packets, which officers found pre-printed ready to be sealed, alongside mobile SIM cards – often used in the TV show for untraceable “burner phones” – as well as illicit Viagra for sale behind the counter, police told Bristol City Council licensing sub-committee.
A large amount of CCTV coverage inside the shop, monitored from elsewhere, raised suspicions further, the panel heard on Thursday, January 13.
Councillors agreed with an application by Avon & Somerset Constabulary to revoke the premises licence. Inspector Kris Harris told members there had been a huge increase in reports of suspicious activity at the shop over the last 18 months, with more than 100 calls from the public, plus intelligence from sources.
He said: “We have significant concerns related to the premises. If action is not taken, there is a risk of serious harm or exploitation taking place.”
Insp Harris, based at Trinity Road police station, said the store was causing a drain on police time and resources.
He said the premises licence holder, Mohammed Arsan Hussein, had been absent from the business for some time.
“He has effectively lost control of the premises and we believe the premises are being run by an organised crime group, these members not being the premises licence holder or the designated premises supervisor,” he said.
Mr Hussein told the panel he was “shocked” and “horrified” that the shop had become a base for criminals and that his family had run it for years before his father leased it out in 2017, since when he had assumed he had nothing to do with it.
Mr Hussein, 35, a truck driver, told members he did not realise his name was still on the licence and did not object to the licence being revoked.
Beat manager PC Clare Heard said the business did not operate like the shop it appeared to be – it had little on the shelves, no backroom stock or staff rota and its hours were “erratic”, usually not opening until late morning.
“Whenever I was up there, I would absolutely without fail see incidents which caused me concern,” she said.
“There would be young children hanging around outside the store, sports cars pulling up, driving at speed, stopping very briefly at the store.
“We had increasing reports of speeding cars, antisocial driving, noise and frequency of attendance of cars linked to OCGs (organised crime groups).
“There were issues of public nuisance related to drug dealing and there was recognisable suspicious activity of people coming up on pedal cycles, making exchanges and then cycling away.
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“There were a lot of children. A lot of vulnerable kids live in that area and I would quite often see youngsters hanging around with adults who I would recognise as related to OCGs and involved in drug dealing.
“The shop was a focal point for where things were happening.”
She said people often loitered outside the property intimidating residents and being “hostile, verbally abusive and aggressive” to police.
“This place was being used as a hub to facilitate criminal activity,” PC Heard said.
“A lot of the people I saw were from across the whole of Bristol, so it was a hub of activity for the whole of Bristol, not just the local area.
“All the people frequenting the premises are well known to us.”
She said that during a search in July they found “a lot of pre-printed empty plastic sachets that you would heat, seal and mark up to look like Skittles or Jelly Tots but it would be a cannabis product put into these bags and sold”.
Police licensing officer Louise Mowbray told the City Hall hearing: “We are really concerned about young people frequenting these premises – the vulnerability, exploitation and criminality.
“These reports continue to come in. We have lots of young people associating with drug dealers and organised crime.”
She said suspected offences included cannabis cultivation, supply of cocaine, sale of alcohol to children and exploitation of youngsters.
Police, supported by trading standards, applied to revoke the licence on the grounds the premises were being operated contrary to the licensing objectives of the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm.
The hearing was told the shop was currently closed but could reopen as a legitimate retail business under new management, although a new premises licence would be required to sell booze.
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