Derry bar fined for selling counterfeit vodka

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A Derry bar owner has been fined £1,500 for selling counterfeit vodka which was “bought off a door to door salesman”.

M, A & C Trading, the owners of the Castle Bar, was found to be selling the counterfeit and under strength vodka during a province-wide investigation into counterfeit alcohol.

They pleaded guilty to fraudulently using a trademark and engaging in misleading commercial practice in November 2015.

Fining the company, District Judge Barney McElholm said: “If someone is going to buy spirits from a dubious source, heaven knows what could be in it.”

He added the other problem is that HMRC is losing revenue but ‘given they have a predilection of allowing multi-millionaires to pay hardly any tax maybe they don’t worry about these things’.

The court heard that investigators visited the Castle Bar and detected seven bottles of counterfeit Smirnoff vodka in the optics or in the bar area.

They were seized and examined.

The glass bottles are found to be genuine, but the bottles, caps, labels and liquid inside them was counterfeit.

It had a strength of 32.4 per cent but to be classed as vodka would require a minimum strength of 35.5 per cent.

The court heard that members of the public were misled believing that they were buying branded vodka.

The owner of the bar was interviewed and claimed that the bar manager was given considerable reign to run the bar.

Defence solicitor Paddy MacDermott told the court his client had owned the Castle Bar for three years. He said the company had employed an experienced bar manager to run the bar and the directors were not hands on.

The solicitor added that the owners were unaware the manager had bought vodka at a lower price from someone ‘going door to door’ but accept as the license holders they are ‘ultimately responsible’.

Mr MacDermott said the bar manager is still employed by the company.

He told the court it is a small bar and doesn’t make great profits.

Judge McElholm suggested that the directors ‘may want to get into another business’ and if they continue to employ the manager ‘they will bear the brunt of his mistakes’.

He added: “I want to bring it home to these owners that they can’t stand back and say they don’t adopt a hands-on approach. They are going to have to adopt a more hands-on approach as these are serious matters.”

Nicholas Lane of the Trading Standards Service said: “Customers pay good money for a branded item. This was counterfeit and under strength. Counterfeit spirits are frequently made and bottled in unhygienic conditions with no quality control. In this case the Trade Mark representative expressed concern at the poor visual clarity of, and the presence of particles in, the bottles of spirit he examined.”