'I don't know what to do' – business owner's ordeal as antisocial behaviour at Inverness shop increases
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An Inverness shop owner is scared and distressed due to a rise in episodes of antisocial behaviour by groups of teenagers in his store.
Munawar Ahmad (55), who has been running Station News at Inverness bus station for the last 15 years, said that in the last two years he has experienced more and more incidents involving teenagers stealing alcohol, cigarettes and vapes from the shop.
The number of incidents – which have now become a daily occurrence according to Mr Ahmad – have seen staff members leave their jobs due to the challenging situation.
Mr Ahmad said: "This is really distressing, it's the same group of people who keep on coming back. Their behaviour has become more antisocial over time. I am now having daily incidents at my store with the same people coming in and stealing things openly.
"This is a small shop with one or two people working at any one time, so being confronted with a group of 10 people or more makes it really difficult for us to run the store.
"For me and my members of staff it's a very uncomfortable situation – it would be challenging to deal with adults, but as we are dealing with children aged 15 or 16, that makes it even more uncomfortable for us to confront them."
The shop owner shared his frustration at regularly having to call the police – with waiting times of more than an hour to get through to 111 support.
He said: "Most of the time when an incident happens, which have escalated from weekly to happening on a daily basis, I am told by the 999 operators I do not have an emergency, and that I need to call 111. When I call 111, I am on hold for an hour or more. When the police finally arrive, they often tell me that I am having too many incidents at my shop and they cannot do anything.
"The teenagers are openly looting my store without even trying to conceal things, as they know there will be no consequences for their actions."
Mr Ahmad, who is originally from Pakistan, said that he often has to endure racial slurs during these episodes.
He recalled a recent incident where he suffered racial abuse by one of the teenagers: "After they left, a couple of customers who witnessed the scene came to apologise to me. For a child it might be something easy to say, but it's something that hurts constantly."
His shop windows were both smashed on separate incidents, he added.
With young people constantly asking passers-by and tourists to buy alcohol, cigarettes and vapes for them, Mr Ahmad said he was also concerned about the repeated visits from the Highland Council's trading standards officers.
"We always check IDs in our store and refuse sales to under-18s," he said. "I have complained about this to the police but they do not take any action. Trading standards are refusing to listen to me and say that it is their job to keep coming to my store."
He added that he is desperate to find support with the situation.
"I really don't know what else to do and I am afraid I'll have to close the shop," he said. "The police have to do something about this, and parents and teachers need to know what these young people are doing."
Inspector Lucy Mackie, of Inverness police, said: “We are aware of ongoing concerns around antisocial behaviour at a premises in the Farraline Park area of the city.
“Officers have responded to incidents of shoplifting and other offences, leading to numerous individuals being reported to the relevant authorities.
“All calls and reports made to Police Scotland have to be prioritised appropriately, however as a result of these concerns our city centre policing team in Inverness have been carrying out dedicated additional patrols around the shop.
“We will also continue to engage with young people to deter them from becoming involved in any criminality. Anyone with concerns around antisocial behaviour should contact police on 101, or 999 in an emergency.”
David MacKenzie, Highland Council’s Trading Standards manager, said: “Trading Standards is responding to a recent upsurge in public concerns about single-use vapes. There are two main problems: illegal sales to children and products which contain excess amounts of nicotine or other fluids and are not safe for anyone to use.
"Trading Standards works closely with local businesses to make sure that the vapes they sell are legal and that they are not being sold to children. Any prospective buyer who looks under 25 years old should be asked to show ID. Shops must operate an appropriate underage sales prevention policy and keep a written refusals log. To check for compliance, we carry out 'test purchases' where, under strictly-controlled conditions, a young volunteer attempts to buy vapes. All sellers are subject to these checks and we must meet Scottish Government targets for numbers of advisory and test purchase visit to shops. Our officers will respond to all requests for assistance from businesses about these matters.
“I am happy to report that most Highland businesses are being responsible and working with our officers to make sure that vapes are not sold to children and only safe products are sold to adults. But we will not hesitate to take swift action against the small minority that flout these important public protection and child safety laws. This includes issuing fixed penalty fines, taking businesses to court and applying for banning orders prohibiting future sales.
“Any matters relating to theft or abusive or antisocial behaviour should be referred to the police.”