Licensees could face 'life in prison' if caught selling fake booze

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Serious consequences: licensees have been urged to ensure they do not trade with illicit wholesalers
Serious consequences: licensees have been urged to ensure they do not trade with illicit wholesalers
Operators have been warned they could be sentenced to a lifetime behind bars if a customer dies from drinking counterfeit alcohol bought and consumed on their premises.

Publicans caught selling fake booze and subsequently causing the death of a customer would be charged with involuntary manslaughter, a magistrate has warned following the release of a new fraud report.

An offender guilty of involuntary manslaughter would be found to have killed a person without intent through an unlawful act or gross negligence, such as selling fraudulent alcohol.

The offence of manslaughter:
Involuntary manslaughter is where the offender did not intend to kill or cause really serious harm but where death results from an unlawful act or gross negligence

The maximum sentence a judge can impose for manslaughter is imprisonment for life.

The warning comes after national audit, tax and advisory firm Crowe Clark Whitehill revealed that UK food and drink companies could be losing £12bn a year to fraud.

The Minimising Fraud and Maximising Value in the UK Food and Drink Sector 2017 ​report, from the advisory company and the University of Portsmouth’s Centre for Counter Fraud Studies, highlighted the effect fraud has on profitability in the food and drink sector.

Fraud affects finances

Crowe Clark Whitehill forensic and counter fraud service manager Eoghan Daly urged independent operators and pub groups to ensure they understand the implications of serving fake alcohol.

He told The Morning Advertiser​: “Pub companies need to understand how fraud impacts them and have the ability to manage their financial cost like any other business cost.

“If pubs serve counterfeit alcohol such as something derived from antifreeze, the sentencing could be huge. You are talking about years in jail and massive fines.”

Andy Grimsey, partner at licensing experts Poppleston Allen, advised operators to "ultra careful" when it comes to buying alcohol.

He said: “It might sound obvious, but selling fake alcohol is not only morally wrong, it is likely to put your personal and premises licenses at risk of revocation, as well as having stock seized and the prospect of a prosecution and/or fine."

No excuse for retailers

Grimsey added: “Sentences vary based upon the facts, but they are only likely to become more severe since the commencement of the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS), as now there is no excuse for alcohol retailers that the man with the van ‘appeared honest and gave me a receipt’.

The FSA’s ‘four Ps’:

  • Product: watch out for fake versions as well as brand names you have never heard of.
  • Price: if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Packaging: watch out for poor quality labelling including spelling mistakes and tampered bottles.
  • Place: buy from a reputable premise.

The AWRS came into force last month​ (1 April) and HM Revenue & Customs warned pubs that buying alcohol from wholesalers not on its alcohol traders’ central register will be at risk of fines.

The scheme, which was developed to tackle alcohol fraud, means pubs trading with illicit wholesalers could face a fine of up to £10,000.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has also issued advice to operators to look out for the ‘four Ps’ when it comes to fake booze; product, price, packaging and place.

It states that vodka is the most counterfeited spirit and to watch out for fake versions as well as unknown brands.

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