Bedford shop could lose licence after illegal tobacco found hidden in the ceiling

Licensee said he returned to the UK following medical treatment and “didn’t have any clue” what was going on in his shop
Pod Orlem, 53- 55 Ford End Road, Bedford. Screenshot Google Street View (C)2024 Image capture June 2023Pod Orlem, 53- 55 Ford End Road, Bedford. Screenshot Google Street View (C)2024 Image capture June 2023
Pod Orlem, 53- 55 Ford End Road, Bedford. Screenshot Google Street View (C)2024 Image capture June 2023

A Bedford shop could lose its ability to sell alcohol after illegal tobacco was found on the site by Trading Standards – despite warnings being given in the past.

This morning (Thursday, February 22) Bedford Borough Council’s (Licensing Act 2003) Licensing Sub-Committee was asked to consider an application to review the premises licence for Pod Orlem, 53-55 Ford End Road, Bedford.

The sub-committee heard that Trading Standards and Borough Council Licensing Officers visited Pod Orlem on September 27, 2023 to conduct a search of the premises for the presence of illegal tobacco.

A concealed compartment between plasterboards and ceiling was found – after unscrewing a light fitting- containing 16,960 cigarettes, which were seized.

A report to the sub-committee said this seizure followed two test purchases of illegal tobacco made at the store in February and March 2023 for which warning letters were issued.

Richard Chattaway, trading standards officer at Bedford Borough Council, said some of the tobacco was found to be counterfeit (sometimes known as cheap whites).

“Cheap whites pose additional dangers in that they have been found, when tested by various trading standards departments including ourselves on occasion, to fail to meet safety standards,” he said. “And [can be] a significant fire hazard if left unguarded as they will not simply burn out.

“We should make this review on the basis that the behaviour of the premises licence holder has undermined the licensing objectives of both public safety and the prevention of crime and disorder,” he said.

Friad Madhad, the licensee, told the sub-committee that when he returned to the UK following medical treatment he “didn’t have any clue” of what was going on in his shop.

“I found that the light in the room didn’t work. I’d go to change it and I found the cigarettes,” he said. “I was shocked, absolutely shocked.”

He said he asked his staff to remove them and the next day Trading Standards arrived.

“I have lived in this country almost 24 years, you can check my background, I never make a mistake, I never do anything illegal,” he said.

Councillor Leigh Coombs (Lib Dem, Shortstown) said the hidden compartment looked like a lot of time and effort had gone into its construction.

Mr Madhad said: “I believe 100 per cent that is the previous owners’.”

Mr Chattaway said: “I’m sorry, but as a premises licensed holder and owner of a shop you have to be in control with what is being sold from the shop and what your staff are doing. And if you don’t like what they’re doing then you can employ other staff.”

He then confirmed that Trading Standards are seeking the revocation of the premises licence.

Mr Madhad said: “Please, I’m begging all of you, just give me the opportunity to find someone to sell my shop, because I’ve really had enough. That’s all I’m looking for, the opportunity [to sell up], please.”

The sub-committee said it would publish its decision on the council’s website within five working days.