Raid on ‘dangerous’ Balham shisha bar nets £500k of suspected bootleg tobacco

Published: Thursday, January 23, 2020

A raid on a Balham shisha bar involving officers in the council’s environmental health team, police and customs officials led to the seizure of half a million pounds worth of suspected “bootleg” tobacco.

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Investigations into breaches of anti-smoking laws and possible tax evasion saw more than 104 kilos of tobacco seized from the Amnesia Lounge shisha bar in Balham High Road.

HM Revenue and Customs officers are investigating whether or not the tobacco was lawfully imported or smuggled into the country without paying the required duty.

The raid was organised up by the council’s environmental health team which suspected that tobacco was being smoked within enclosed spaces, contrary to the Health Act 2006.

Other health breaches centred on the bar’s use of charcoal burners used inside the premises which were producing toxic carbon monoxide gases nearly six times higher than levels considered safe. These burners are used to produce the glowing embers used in shisha pipes.

This would have put customers and staff inside the bar – and potentially people living in the accommodation above the business - at serious and imminent risk of harm.

Last year another local shisha bar was shut down after council enforcement officers discovered two families - including young children - living in flats above it were being poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes. The upstairs occupants were all suffering the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning - headaches, vomiting and flu-like symptoms. Fortunately all made full recoveries and suffered no long-term ill-effects.

A quantity of shisha paraphernalia including pipes, hoses, mouthpieces and clay tobacco holders were also confiscated from Amnesia Lounge.

As a result of these discoveries the two owners of the business were prosecuted by the council for breaches of health regulations.

Magistrates were told that the two men - Karim Baksh and Abul Hussain - had ignored repeated warnings not to use charcoal burners inside the building and not permit smoking within enclosed spaces.

Neither man attended the town hall to provide taped interviews and on three occasions they failed to answer summonses to appear in court. They were eventually convicted in their absence.

Thirty five-year-old Mr Baksh and Mr Hussain, 32, who both gave their address as Balham High Road, were each fined £440 and ordered to pay £2,582 in courts costs and victim surcharge.

Consumer protection spokesman Cllr Steffi Sutters said: “Customers and staff working at this shisha bar were all taking enormous risks with their health. As if the threat from the tobacco was not enough, the build-up of poisonous carbon monoxide gas inside the premises could have been lethal.

“And as we have seen in the past, people living in flats above this business could have also been put at serious risk of harm.

“These two men demonstrated a blatant disregard for the law and the health of the public by ignoring repeated warnings and refusing to clean up their act.”

Anyone with concerns about health and safety issues at any local business or commercial premises in Wandsworth can register those concerns by emailing staff who are based at Merton town hall. The email to use is foodandsafety@merton.gov.uk.

This carbon monoxide reading shows the dangers posed to customers and staff. The safe limit is 100