Westminster makes clean sweep of illegal traders

Helen Sage reports

A clamp-down on illegal street trading has been the focus of Westminster City Council's drive to clean up the streets of central London.

The council obtained three injunctions against persistent licence evaders and set up an undercover operation to trap the operators of a mock auction racket in Oxford Street.

Central London County Court awarded injunctions against three men with a string of convictions for selling food without licences in the West End. If any of the three defy the injunctions they face either a heavy fine or imprisonment.

The council is also applying for an injunction against a man with about 260 previous convictions for unlicensed street trading.

The undercover operation to expose the organisers of mock auctions along Oxford Street led to the prosecution of Bradforce Trading, which was fined £10,500 and ordered to pay £1,500 costs at Horseferry Road Magistrates Court.

The council brought the prosecution under the Mock Auctions Act 1961 and the Greater London Council Act 1984 for unlicensed premises and illegal selling techniques.

Customers claimed they were deceived into thinking a genuine auction was taking place by cleverly worded patter which created a buying frenzy.

In one case a poor quality camera, described as being worth £300, was knocked down and sold for £70 but was valued by an expert as "practically worthless".

Gordon Powell, assistant divisional director in Westminster's consumer protection department, said: "It is very difficult to get evidence for these kinds of cases because witnesses are so overcome by the clever patter and the pace of the event that they can't remember what has actually happened."