A shopkeeper said his Vieux Marché convenience store was unfairly accused by police of being a hotbed of crime and anti-social behavior.

Local Store, at 42A Old Market Street, has been run by Vas Anwar for a decade, but could soon be taken over by a new owner. Police and Trade Standards said his store sold alcohol to underage teenagers, under-the-counter laughing gas and illicit cigarettes.

The store has been linked to more than 100 police reports over the past three years, and police said drunk people were often seen drinking outside. Bristol City Council’s licensing subcommittee has now revoked Anwar’s license to sell alcohol to the local.

But Avon and Somerset Police faced questions about their evidence at Thursday’s license hearing, as well as claims they were misrepresenting the statistics. Anwar representatives said many police reports came from store staff phoning 999 and “trying to do the right thing” about outside problems, for which they were now being penalized.

Frequent customers also said the store is used as a landmark, so many people phoning the police might name it as an address, although the incident potentially had nothing to do with the local.

Other concerns included the impact of a nearby squat, which has now been closed, but which had previously caused a huge increase in crime and anti-social behavior in the area.

Between 2019 and 2022, the police recorded more than 100 incidents linked to the Local. Licensing police officer says 50 were outside store, including begging, assault and threatening behavior; and 58 were reported inside the store, including assaults on staff, assaults by staff, criminal damage and theft. About a third of the incidents were reported to the police directly by store staff.

Licensing officer Louise Mowbray said: ‘The squat attracted large numbers of homeless people, who tended to congregate outside the local. There is a recurring problem with aggressive and drunken individuals outside the premises with no attempt to move on or staff being too intimidated to move them. Reports described people at the squat buying alcohol on the premises, drinking it openly, and residents scared and unable to sleep.

Trading Standards also found 14,400 cigarettes in a nearby office used as storage for Anwar, which they seized.

He told the Licensing Committee that they were for personal use, for him and his family, and had been purchased duty free while traveling abroad.

A five-minute walk from the local is Logos House, a 92-room homeless shelter run by the Salvation Army on Wade Street. Sergeant Maz Collacott-Nuur said many people staying there were addicted to drugs or alcohol and often bought alcohol from the store.

But Piers Warne, a licensing lawyer representing Anwar, said only six police incidents had been linked to the local this year. These included a drunk person falling outside, a scooter being stolen, staff receiving nuisance phone calls and a shoplifter assaulting a member of staff. Incidents in previous years were also not the store’s fault, he added, but the problems increased “exponentially” when the building next door was used as a squat.

He said: ‘There is a clear record that they turned people away, tried to do the right thing, called the police about it, and now they are being blamed for it. It just doesn’t add up when you look at these stats. Three allegations relate to assaults by staff members on customers who have been refused sales and forcibly removed – one is someone phoning saying: ‘I’ve been badly changed, and I want the police to come and deal with it” – but which are recorded as local crime data.

The local will now likely be sold to another trader, who will ask the council to take the license for the premises. Anwar said he wanted to stop working at his store and focus on his health and spending time with his family. But before the sale is completed, he will not be allowed to sell alcohol

Councilor Richard Eddy, chairman of the committee, said: ‘We were not persuaded by the police evidence about the link between anti-social behavior and this specific shop. But it is clear that there have been significant and serious failings by [Anwar].”

All photos: Meg Houghton Gilmour

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