Sex shop raid in Thurrock leads to licensing review

IRRITATED councillors threw out an application to renew the licence for a Borough sex shop after slamming the owner for not paying enough attention to his business.

Last week Thurrock Council’s licensing sub-committee met to consider an application to renew the permission to operate the ‘Adult Store’ at 23, Broadway, Grays, and heard a list of offences committed by the store’s manager – including displaying for sale hundreds of sex DVDs that were not licensed and hazardous sex-enhancing products that were not properly labelled.

The store’s manager, Darren Shrubb admitted to a string of breaches of the rules and, in what amounted to a grovelling apology to his boss and the committee, he accepted all the blame for the problems, saying: “It’s my entire fault, I feel entirely responsible for everything that’s happened.”

However, the committee, which consisted of Cllrs John Purkiss and Joy Redsell and was chaired by Cllr Ben Maney, were not in the mood for him to take all the blame and were scathing in criticising store owner Bradley Rose and said they could not accept he did not know what was going on at the premises.

Despite the best endeavours of Mr Rose’s solicitor, Richard Barker, who made a detailed and concerted effort to present his client’s case for a chance to prove the business could be run properly – including cross examining both Mr Rose and Mr Shrubb before the committee – he failed to win them over.

The committee heard that in December 2013 a joint visit to the store by Thurrock Council’s licensing team, Trading Standards Officers and police, identified a number of offences. These included wrongly classified sex videos and others that were not licensed or approved by the British Board of Film Classification.

Other issues included incorrectly labelled tonics and pills that purported to increase sexual desire and wrongly labelled hazardous chemical products – known as poppers.

The committee heard follow up visits, including a covert operation in January, found problems were not being addressed and in May this year Trading Standards officers returned to the premises and seized 631 DVDs, 570 which were found to be not classified and there were labelling issues with hundreds of other DVDs.

Further investigation continued through the year and in August Mr Rose was interviewed under caution. The committee was advised that it was possible prosecution and legal action through the courts could follow on from that interview.

Evidence from the Council’s Licensing and Trading Standards teams was given to the committee and it was suggested that if the licence were to be renewed, it was done so under a number of conditions – which were submitted to the committee and Mr Rose on the evening.

Mr Barker expressed his concern that the conditions had not been put to his client before the meeting, saying: “They may all be wonderful and very sensible, but it would have been better to have consideration of them before this meeting.”

Cllr Maney concurred and expressed his concern with the authority’s administrative efficiency but the matter was resolved when, after consulting with

Mr Rose, Mr Barker said the conditions- which related to administration of the business including keeping a register and improving CCTV – were acceptable.

“I’ve managed to persuade my client to go quietly,” quipped the solicitor.

However, it was not to be plain sailing for Mr Rose who, after Mr Shrubb had addressed the meeting and said all the problems were his fault and he had been trying to ensure the business was successful in difficult trading times , came under examination from the councillors.

Cllr Purkiss was particularly insistent in questioning Mr Roe over an alleged lack of knowledge about what was going on at his shop and the number of visits he made to check.

"You are just passing the buck. For you not to know what was going on is deeply disturbing," said Cllr Purkiss, while Cllr Maney went further, saying: "I’m a little bit astounded," and he pressed Mr Roe on why, given Mr Shrubb’s admission of guilt and a string of what amounted to criminal offences, he was still employed.

Mr Barker defended Mr Rose on that count, saying he was trying to help an employee with a previous good reputation, saying: "Why employ a bad apple is a good question, but Mr Rose has now made it possible for that bad apple not to go rotten again. He can no longer go off piste."

In his final plea to the councillors Mr Rose said the store had previously operated without problems, saying: "I’ve never had a problem with the day to day running of the shop and no complaint from the public or the police."

Despite that, and the acceptance of the recommended conditions, the councillors, after deliberating in private, decided to reject the application.

The committee’s legal advisor, Chris Pickering, delivered the majority decision of the three councillors, saying: “The sub-committee have considered in detail the submissions on behalf of the applicant, the applicant himself and former store manager Mr Shrubb and also the submissions from council officers and note the inadequate oversight maintained by the applicant.

“The sub-committee view the breaches as serious and do not accept as an explanation that a lack of knowledge of the breach of that order excuses his obligations as a licence holder. The continued involvement of Mr Shrubb with the business further calls into question the applicant’s judgement. For these reasons the sub-committee are not satisfied that adding conditions to the licence will prevent further issues and for the above reasons decline the application to renew the licence.”

Mr Rose has 28 days to submit an appeal to a magistrate against the decision.

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