Family's High Road Fruit Stall Business Saved

After court upholds appeal against revocation of licence

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A family run fruit stall has been saved by a Magistrate this week after the court appeal an appeal against the revocation of the licence.

The licence for the stall, situated opposite the Police station on the High Road held by Mrs Sue Barker, was taken away in January by the Licensing Panel of LB Hounslow following complaints that the fruit and vegetable stall was not open every day. The Council gave evidence at Feltham Magistrates Court of seven occasions when the stall had been closed between 2003 and 2006.

In her defence, Mrs Baker’s barrister explained to the Magistrates that it is unreasonable to expect a stallholder to be personally present for all hours of the licence - eleven hours a day for seven days a week. Opening hours would depend upon the availability of produce, the weather and personal commitments.

The officer’s report to the licensing committee’s Councillors had failed to include various matters of which the local authority was aware. Those included the illness of Mrs Baker’s husband which had caused problems but was by then improving; the visits of Mrs Baker to the Civic Centre to discuss replacing her stall which had been vandalised and the letter she had written to confirm the actions she was taking. Complaints had been recorded against Mrs Baker about the litter of crates for bread and for flowers, neither of which are traded from the stall.

Mrs Baker’s lawyer said that no consideration had been given by the Committee of ‘reasonable excuses’ for closure and that Councillors had taken action to deprive a family of their livelihood. They could have imposed additional conditions to meet the Council’s requirements.

He explained that at an earlier hearing in the Court in March, he had sought a settlement but there had been no response. A letter was written to the Council by Mrs Baker’s solicitor on 30th March 2007 to seek a compromise but on 10th April a reply indicated that the Council was ‘unable to settle’ and that the case would have to proceed in the Court. He said that was unreasonable and the case should not be before the Magistrates for a second time. He sought payment of Mrs Baker’s costs, which was granted, on the basis that the failure of the Council to address the issues during and since the Licensing Panel meeting constituted unreasonable behaviour.

The barrister for the Council told the Court that the local authority had been unable to reach a compromise previously, a statement that was challenged by the Magistrate, as it had not seemed any earlier attempt had been made.

The Magistrates allowed Mrs Baker’s appeal, based on the draft Order. They said that the decision made on 31st January was open to criticism. The licence holder had been ready to compromise but the five-day trading terms had not been put forward by the Council when they could have been. Time could have been saved and costs avoided. They ordered the Council to pay two-thirds of Mrs Baker’s costs up to that day and the whole costs of her legal representation for the second Court appearance.

Commenting on this case, Peter Eversden said "It seems that a service of many years to the community will be able to continue now from the Chiswick High Road fruit and vegetable stall opposite the Police station.

The decision by Feltham Magistrates to uphold the stallholder’s appeal against the loss of her licence is a great relief to many who live in the area and appreciate the value of the produce and the friendliness of the family.

It is a pity that so much of their time and expense was taken by Hounslow Council’s decision to revoke their licence, instead of negotiating what it appears was wanted. With many applicants for street trading licences, the Council has to ensure that pitches are well used. The Council has reached a compromise that the family should share their stall during the week, but only after two unnecessary Court appearances. It was unreasonable anyway for the Council to demand that Mrs Sue Baker worked eleven hours a day on seven days a week."

April 19, 2007