A NEW premises licence has been refused at a shop where staff were caught selling illegal tobacco.

Monika Plevyte applied for a new premises licence for Europe Quality Food in Brookend Street in Ross-on-Wye to serve alcohol between 10am and 9pm every day.

But at Herefordshire Council's Regulatory Sub Committee both the police and Trading Standards objected.

The hearing heard that Ms Plevyte had the same home address as Karzan Elias, who is still the owner of the shop.

He pleaded guilty at Herefordshire Magistrates’ Court on December 16 to selling illegal, fake and smuggled tobacco products from the Ross shop and was ordered to pay £2,900.

Police inspector, Carl Paskin, said that Mr Elias received a police caution last May after he produced a claw hammer and a length of wood from behind the shop counter and told two males he suspected of breaking into his shop to leave the shop's premises.

Insp Paskin said: "The police view is that there is a clear connection between the applicant, Mr Elias and the proposed licensed premises that shows criminal behaviour that would undermine the licensing objectives."

Tim Thorne of Herefordshire Trading Standards said they received an anonymous tip-off that the shop was selling illegal tobacco and they carried out four test purchases.

He said on September 15, Ms Plevyte sold illegal tobacco to the test purchaser, and the following day a raid was carried out.

Mr Thorne said: "As I walked in with a police officer I caught Ms Plevyte red-handed, to put it bluntly, handing over six packages of illegal smuggled Cutters Choice to a customer."

They searched the shop and found a secret compartment hidden behind a fuse box. The tobacco hidden in the wall amounted to £2,000-worth of duty evasion.

Police said that although Ms Plevyte was also arrested, they did not proceed with the case and charged Mr Elias as he was the licence holder.

Michael Jones, the legal representative for Ms Plevyte, said she has been granted a personal licence and has a clean criminal record, both in the UK and her home country of Lithuania.

He suggested that the committee could grant a licence which meant that only Ms Plevyte could sell the alcohol or a manager approved by the licensing authority.

Mr Jones said a petition has been signed by more than 300 people for the shop to gain a new licence.

The committee refused to grant a licence because Mr Elias remains at the premises and the committee remain seriously concerned that to grant a licence would undermine the crime prevention objective of the licensing act.