Two Birmingham shops found to be selling potentially harmful fake vodka had their licences to sell alcohol on their premises revoked by the city council’s Licensing and Public Protection Sub-Committee earlier this week (15 September).
More than 80 bottles of counterfeit or illicit vodka and whisky, representing more than £1,000 of stock, and even more in unpaid UK duty, were seized from premises in Harborne and Sutton Coldfield during the summer.
Trading standards officers who visited Drinks Direct, in Walmley Road, Sutton Coldfield, on 1 July 2014 seized 43 bottles of whisky and vodka, including brands High Commissioner, Smirnoff, Glens and Selekt vodka.
Following a complaint that a bottle of Selekt vodka bought from Drinks Direct “tasted bad”, one of the seized bottles was sent to Birmingham City Laboratories, where tests revealed it was unsafe for human consumption and only contained 24.1 per cent alcohol, rather than 37.5 per cent.
The report stated: “This drink contained industrial grade solvents (butanol and iso-propyl alcohol) and is so contaminated that it is unfit for human consumption and unsafe to drink.”
The brand owners also confirmed the back labels on bottles of High Commissioner, Glens and Smirnoff, carried fake UK duty stamps. Officers also noted that Drinks Direct had previously been advised by trading standards on illicit alcohol in 2011.
Officers also visited Weymoor Post Office, in Northfield Road, Harborne, on 9 June and 24 June 2014, following an anonymous letter alleging a bottle of Glens vodka bought there “didn’t taste right”.
They seized a total 38 bottles of spirits including High Commissioner whisky, Glens vodka, Russian Standard vodka and Bells whisky, all of which either had fake back labels incorporating fake UK duty stamps or the stamps had been tampered with.
Tests on a bottle of Glens vodka seized at the store, conducted at Birmingham City Laboratories, confirmed it contained counterfeit vodka that was unsafe to drink as it contained a high level of methanol.
Cllr Barbara Dring, Chair of the city council’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: “People who bought any of these spirits were potentially put at risk as a result of the retailers buying unrealistically cheap stock, especially those who bought counterfeit Selekt and Glens vodka which were found to be unsafe to drink.
“These are very serious cases, as although the number of bottles of vodka deemed unfit for human consumption is relatively small, they highlight the danger that fake alcohol can pose. Often these are mixed in with the other non-duty items, so it’s possible that these retailers were unaware they were selling these counterfeit products to their customers.
“However the fact most of the back labels on these bottles had either been tampered with or bore fake UK duty stamps is also a concern, as often this the work of organised criminal gangs the proceeds of which may be used to fund further criminal activity.”
Both shops’ premises licences to sell alcohol were revoked indefinitely by the city’s Licensing and Public Protection Sub-Committee on Monday (15 September).
Notes to editors:
Both Weymoor Post Office and Drinks Direct have 21 days to appeal against the sub-committee’s decision. This appeal period begins from the date they are notified in writing of the committee’s decision.
They are able to continue trading during this period but if an appeal is lodged and refused, the retailer must stop selling alcohol.
Properly produced and certified alcoholic drinks are made using ethanol, which is a type of alcohol that is safe to drink, however fake alcoholic drinks may contain cheaper forms of alcohol which can make them unsafe for consumption.
Butanol: This type of alcohol, derived from butane, is commonly used in products such as adhesives and varnishes.
Iso-propyl alcohol: This is a volatile flammable alcohol which is normally used as a solvent and in products including antifreeze and antiseptics.
Methanol: This is a flammable poisonous liquid alcohol more commonly used as a solvent or antifreeze.