East London shop fined £10k for breaking Covid click and collect rules

The London Domestic Appliances store in Bethnal Green was prosecuted by Tower Hamlets council after falling foul of lockdown rules on March 30 last year.

Trading Standards officer James Grier told Thames magistrates court he and a colleague had seen a sales assistant sitting at a desk in the doorway of the shop, which sells white goods including fridges, freezers, and washing machines.

He asked the sales assistant “what type of fridge freezers he had for sale in his shop”, and was told he could visit the website or “look at high street suppliers with the option of price match or discounts if he chose to buy from the premises”, according to a witness statement.

“Officer Grier indicated that he was interested in purchasing a Silver Fridge Freezer,” the statement continued.

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“The sales assistant stood up from the counter and showed Officer Grier a Samsung Fridge Freezer which was located at the right side of the main entrance.

“The sales assistant offered to sell the fridge freezer for £399. He confirmed that delivery of the fridge freezer would be on April 1 2021. The sales assistant provided Officer Grier the card machine to complete the transaction.

“At that point, Officer Grier introduced himself and advised the sales assistant that the business was in breach of the Covid-19 business regulations.”

At the time, lockdown rules meant shops not delivering essential services could only open for click-and-collect sales.

London Domestic Appliances (UK) Limited, run by Shahid Mahmood, was issued a £10,000 fixed penalty notice by the council, and then prosecuted when the financial penalty was not paid.

On December 8 last year, the shop was convicted of a breach of the Covid-19 regulations and ordered to pay a £10,000 fine plus £1,464 in costs and fees.

The business has already been fined £4,000 plus £1591 in costs for five similar breaches of the rules in November and December 2020.

All six prosecutions against the business were conducted through the Single Justice Procedure (SJP), in behind closed-doors-hearings where a magistrates decides whether to convict based on written evidence.

The cases were effectively kept secret after being omitted from public court listings, and were also not included in details of cases to be heard by the court which are routinely issued to the media.

The Evening Standard has now discovered other SJP prosecutions by Tower Hamlets council against businesses in the borough.

Abdur Rahim, 41, who owns the Phone House repair shop in Shadwell was fined £120 for a breach of the Covid rules in May 2020, when he “did not cease to carry on the business of offering goods for sale in a shop except when making deliveries or otherwise provide services in response to orders received through a website, online communication, telephone or post”.

The Zam Zam gift shop on Whitechapel Road broke the same rules eight times in April and May 2020, and after pleading guilty owner Md Asmath Baksh was handed a 12-month conditional discharge.

In another prosecution by Tower Hamlets council which started in the SJP process and was ultimately sentenced in open court, an eatery based in the railway arches in Cambridge Heath was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay nearly £6,000 in prosecution costs after failing to stop selling food and drink on June 26, 2020, during the first national lockdown.

La Cantina Sociale was convicted of the offence alongside 35-year-old Girolamo Angelini, the person in charge of the venue, who was issued with a £200 fine at a hearing on January 5 this year.

In response to the case, Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs said: “It is wrong that one business should be allowed to take an illegal financial advantage over law abiding businesses. This was a serious and continued breach of the rules and despite our best efforts to inform the café owner of their obligations, they were not willing to change their behaviour to help keep people safe.

“I want to say thank you to all the businesses in Tower Hamlets that stuck to the rules to keep their customers and staff safe, despite it costing them money.”

The council also defended the use of SJP to bring prosecutions, saying it a system it regularly takes advantage of to deal with offences such as littering, unlicensed skips and truancy.

“This legal method is nothing new, it’s been in place for about six years and is a cheaper and far quicker way for courts to process low-level cases”, a spokesperson said.

“Defendants can always decline for their cases to be dealt with under the SJP and to instead be dealt with at a hearing.”

HM Courts and Tribunal Service is looking into how the council prosecutions were omitted from the court’s public listings and it has previously acknowledged transparency issues in the system, saying it is “working to make improvements”.