Selling alcohol from one Harpenden shop has allegedly been a crime for the past four years.

In two sting operations, 17-year-old police cadets bought alcohol from The Shop By The Park in Station Road.

When St Albans City and District Council and Hertfordshire Constabulary tried to step in, they found the shopkeeper had not transferred the premises licence when he took on the business in 2019.

Without an up-to-date licensee, the local authority considers all alcohol sales over the past four years to be illegal.

Mohammed Zaman, the shopkeeper responsible for making sure the licence was in his name rather than the previous holder, appeared at a council hearing on Tuesday, July 11.

“I have kids and I need to feed them,” he told a panel.

But after deliberations in private, councillors refused to let Mr Zaman transfer the licence at such a late stage.

An evidence bundle for the hearing detailed a test purchase which took place on August 9, 2022.

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The shop assistant sold a four-pack of beers to a 17-year-old and a vape pen to a 16-year-old.

In another test purchase on May 5, 2023, a male and a female cadet, both aged 17, bought two bottles of alcohol from the same assistant.

With two failed test purchases, the authority contacted the previous licence holder, but he replied on May 31 this year.

“I would like to mention I have sold this business to Mr Zaman four years ago and we had applied to change the premises licence,” he said.

A St Albans City and District Council licensing officer then wrote to Mr Zaman and said: “It is the duty of the new licence holder to transfer the licence, a duty you have failed to complete.”

In addition to a lapse in payments, the council officer told Mr Zaman his “premises licence has not had a licence holder or designated premises supervisor for four years”.

He said: “This means that any alcohol sold in this time has been a crime.”

In June this year, Mr Zaman applied to transfer the licence into his own name which meant, after the licence was paid, he could continue selling alcohol until the council made its ruling.

Hertfordshire Constabulary objected to the licence transfer.

“We do not believe – and I know it’s not nice to hear – that if he becomes the legal licence holder he will be able to abide by the four licensing objectives,” Rhea Hosey, of Hertfordshire Constabulary, told the panel.

Mr Zaman told the panel: “I really apologise for what has happened. When I took over the business, the previous owner gave me some direction.

“My staff, they should not make this mistake [of selling alcohol to under 18s].

“From the beginning of Covid, we have been working so hard. I am really sorry.

“I have got children and I never meant to harm any children [by the shop serving alcohol], even by mistake.”

Mr Zaman acknowledged it was his responsibility to put checks and balances in place, such as training and keeping an up to date alcohol “refusal log”.

He said he wanted to “run a community service” and added his “entire life is in” the shop.

There was “so much stress” for him when he took on the business, Mr Zaman added.

Councillor Lynn Cunningham (LD, Sandridge and Wheathampstead), who sat on the panel, said: “We have heard about your personal circumstances and your family.

“We understand that and we have due sympathy for that, but we need to stick to the facts of the case at this point.”

A ruling was published after the private deliberations.

It references a part of the hearing where Mr Zaman “was unsure if he had functioning CCTV operating” at the times when he had refused alcohol sales.

He was unable to confirm the shop assistant who sold alcohol to the cadets had completed extra training.

“We note Mr Zaman’s personal circumstances, and appreciate his apologies, however, we are unable to take this into consideration in reaching our decision,” the ruling reads.

“On the basis of all the evidence we have received, we consider Mr Zaman cannot operate the premises as a premises licence holder and promote the four licensing objectives, in particular the crime prevention objective.”

The Shop By The Park next to Batford Springs cannot serve alcohol until a new premises licence holder is in place.