Liquor licence ruling brings dismay
There were shakes of the head and mutterings of ‘‘we feel cheated’’ as protesters filed out of a Liquor Licensing Authority hearing last week, as the bottle store opposite Russell School was given a dramatic reprieve.
The concerns of residents and community organisations were left unheard inside Porirua District Court last Wednesday, the case adjourned so Chiman Patel could address discrepancies in the business structure of his Thirsty Liquor bottle shop and adjoining grocery store.
Earlier in the day, more than 100 people made the short walk from the canopies to the Porirua District Court, making their feelings known that the bottle shop was not welcome in their neighbourhood.
Residents and members of the Russell School community complain of over-the-top advertising, broken glass and graffiti due to the store’s presence. The hearing began with Senior Sergeant Steve Sargent tell- ing the court there had been two failed controlled purchase operations (CPO) at Thirsty Liquor since 2005, where minors were able to buy alcohol at the store. He said it was in the police’s interests for Mr Patel to not have his off-licence certificate renewed.
In giving evidence, Mr Patel said his son, who was on the counter during the failed CPO in June, was taking hospitality management classes in January.
He insisted it was people’s ‘‘ responsibility to themselves’’ whether they bought alcohol at his store or not.
Mr Patel said more than half of his alcohol sales occur after 10pm on Friday and the weekend.
Thirsty Liquor is the only bottle shop open until midnight in Porirua City.
His lawyer Jonathan Scragg said since the first failed CPO in 2005, there had been one breach in six years, with five CPOS passed in 2011 alone.
In the afternoon the hearing took a turn that left a number in attend- ance unsatisfied. Under questioning from one of the two authority judges, John Hole, Mr Patel could not satisfactorily answer questions on the separation of his grocery and bottle store businesses.
‘‘ You are giving me different answers . . . I put it to you that you are running the foodmarket and the bottle store as one business and if that is the case you should not have a licence to sell liquor,’’ said Judge Hole. ‘‘ We cannot grant you an application, so we can’t go further here.’’
Under the Sale of Liquor Act it is illegal for a grocery store to sell spirits and ready-to-drink alcoholic mixes.
Judge Hole was sympathetic to the number of objectors who had waited patiently in the public gallery, and he paid tribute to their ‘‘ respectful’’ demeanour in the courtroom.
Many objectors had taken time off work to appear and address the court – Porirua College, the Salvation Army, Russell School principal Sose Annandale and a number of residents will now not be heard due to an adjournment so Mr Patel ‘‘could get his house in order’’.
The judge said this was the fairest outcome, rather than refusing the objection outright, and the public’s concerns would remain valid.
‘‘It is not what you wanted. I know you wanted the matter disposed of today. But the issues of the structure of the business [must be resolved].
‘‘I can imagine Mr Scragg will be advising his client on this in strong terms.’’
Mr Sargent told the hearing ‘‘objectors feel cheated’’ and one of these, Wesley Community Action’s Matt Crawshaw, said he was ‘‘ gutted’’ they would have to come back, likely in the new year, to do it all again.
‘‘There’s been so much time and effort gone in, this is a real anticlimax. Many people won’t be able to do this again, take time off work and spend a whole day down here.’’
Due to the failed CPO, police applied for a suspension of Thirsty Liquor’s off-licence.
The authority will likely rule on this before Christmas and it could mean the shop is shut for 48 hours.