Oddbins refused island licence
Island-based alcohol retailer Oddbins has been refused permission for an on-licence wine warehouse in Douglas.
The business, owned by Hooded Ram owner Raj Chatha, had sought to run a specialist wine merchant business from European House on Peel Road, stocking premium wines and holding wine tasting events.
Oddbins Direct Ltd’s application for a ’wine warehouse’ was heard last week by the licensing court, chaired by High Bailiff Jayne Hughes.
Objecting to the application were Shoprite owner Isle of Man Enterprises, brewer Heron and Brearley and Campbell Moore Ltd, which trades as the Wine Cellar and has recently moved onto Peel Road.
In a statement, Oddbins said it was disappointed by the outcome and noted that all the interested parties who opposed its application are competitors - and that no objection had been made by either the police or the Attorney General’s chambers.
But in its ruling, the licensing court said it must look at the ’fitness and character’ of the company.
It said: ’We do not agree with the applicant that the licensing court should not look behind the corporate veil.’
The court referred to a ruling last year by the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs against allied companies in the UK, Whittle’s Wines Ltd and European Food Brokers Ltd.
It was accepted by the applicant that the beneficial owner of Oddbins Direct, EFB Ltd and Whittle’s Wines Ltd is Mr Chatha while the owner of European House on Peel Road is Mr Chatha’s pension fund.
The ruling said: ’As Mr Chatha is the sole beneficial owner of the applicant we do consider that any criticism of him by a judge dealing with licensing matters in the UK in respect of EFB Ltd, of which Mr Chatha is also the sole beneficial owner, to be relevant to our decision.
’In the judgment it was found that EFB Ltd was not a fit and proper person to own and warehouse duty suspended alcohol. Judge Rupert Jones said of Mr Chatha that he "was not a witness of truth".
’Judge Rupert Jones said that Mr Chatha and other key persons for the appellants "lied to HMRC and the tribunal about material aspects of their case".’
Oddbins was represented at the four-day licensing committee hearing by company director James Brookman and advocate Gillian Christian.
An Oddbins spokesman told the Manx Independent: ’Detailed references in the judgement to the beneficial owners involvement in proceedings in the UK is disappointing given that this judgment is currently under appeal and the Attorney General’s office had been fully aware of the cited case.’
He said the police and the advocate from the Attorney General’s chambers had stated they were satisfied that the applicant and beneficial owner are fit and proper persons to hold a licence and had no objections to the application.
He added: ’Indeed the same judge that issued the judgment has since made a further decision in which he confirmed that he had considered the application for leave to appeal and grounds of appeal and was satisfied that it was "arguable that I have erred in law and that there are realistic prospects of success on each ground of appeal".’
Criticism was made at the licensing hearing of Mr Brookman, who - it was pointed out by H&B - had signed two documents, as company director and/or secretary, dated March 19 and 21 in 2018. However, he had not been appointed a company director or secretary until April 20 2018.
Further criticism was made of the fact that Mr Chatha had not provided the court with ’the benefit of his evidence despite Mr Brookman saying that it was Mr Chatha’s decision to proceed with the application, the court has not had the opportunity to hear from him’.
The interested parties’ objections were summarised by the licensing committee as:
â?¢ Need for consistency - in 2014 European Food Brokers Ltd applied for the same permission and was refused
â?¢ Lack of demand in the island for the quantity of alcohol it is possible to store at the Peel Road site, and applicant is offering nothing new
â?¢ Insufficient parking at the premises, concerns over online sales and the link between off-licence density and increased crime
It was noted in the ruling that all the interested parties were involved in the retail sale of alcohol and that ’the Wine Cellar in particular has a specialist wine store very close to the premises’.
Mrs Christian said in her closing submission that the interested parties’ objection was solely on a competitive basis, and that competition should be embraced.
But the licensing committee said that ’the commercial considerations of individual retailers would not and should not come into our decision-making process’ except where it may impact upon the loss of jobs or facilities.
It added: ’The application is essentially the same as that made in 2014, the premises are the same, the layout is the same, the intended use is the same and the registration process is the same.
’They are to all intents and purposes the same application made at different times.
’For the reasons given, including consistency, the application is refused.’
The Oddbins Direct spokesman told the Manx Independent: ’The view of the licensing court and the objectors was that there is no evidence of a need for an Oddbins store in the Isle of Man. Surely this is for the Manx residents to decide?’
The spokesman added: ’With regard to the three objecting parties, it was noted by the applicant that they would all be direct competitors of Oddbins Wine Warehouse Ltd.
’They all gave detailed evidence that there was no "need" for a further player in the market and stated their view that the consumer already had sufficient choice. It was noted that none of the three objecting parties had objected to any other applications for an alcohol licence.’
European House is also the home of Isle of Man Newspapers.