The clampdown on the American candy stores swamping Oxford Street began today after counterfeit chocolate bars and dodgy vapes and toys were seized.
Trading standards officers from Westminster Council have raided some of the deluge of tacky, overpriced US-themed sweet and souvenir shops that have been taking over high streets.
On Oxford Street, one of the world’s most famous shopping roads, even HMV’s flagship store has been taken over as the local authority investigates claims the shops are being used as part of a £7.9million tax scam.
Today Westminster Council leader Adam Hug tweeted a photo of bags and bags of fake chocolate bars and said: ‘Over £100k worth of counterfeit or illegal goods on my table seized from American Candy Shops on Oxford Street by our hard working trading standards officers.
‘Yesterday’s haul included 2246 counterfeit Wonka Bars; 2838 disposable vapes (both counterfeit and those with excessive nicotine levels, tank sizes above permitted levels, 223 toys with no safety labels, 1393 counterfeit mobile phone covers + much more’.
There are now at least ten candy stores between Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road stations alone – equating to roughly one every 200 yards – with some offering other services like foreign currency exchange.
There has been a boom in videos where youngsters try super-sour or sweet American treats and drinks for the first time.Others filmed staff giving visitors, including some apparently still in primary school, free sweets just for popping in and giving a fist bump.
MailOnline revealed last week that a huge £7.9million tax scam investigation has been launched into scores of the themed shops on Oxford Street and the West End of including the major Kingdom of Sweets chain. We also revealed the brand and some of its rivals are using , and YouTube to lure children into their store.
Westminster Council has seized £100,000 of fake and dodgy goods from Oxford Street American Candy stores including these Wonka Bars
Councillor Adam Hug, leader of Westminster City Council, said: ‘Anyone walking down Oxford Street is struck by the ever-expanding number of US style sweet shops and poor quality souvenir outlets.They are not only an eye sore; they are a threat to the status and value of what is supposed to be the nation’s premier shopping street’
Mr Hug said today: ‘We also need greater transparency in company ownership with further reforms for Companies House-the upcoming Economic Crime Bill 2 can help with that. The Government also needs to properly resource Companies House, techinfluential HMRC and other agencies to take action to deliver’.
These stores have been branded ‘the modern day childcatcher’ amid calls for an investigation into similar stores that have cropped up on high streets across the country.
Some London candy shops are also selling sweets that are so sweet they would be illegal to manufacture in the UK.
Nickie Aiken, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster – which includes Oxford Street – branded the stores ‘sinister’. She told MailOnline: ‘I think they are wrong on a number of levels – what they’re offering and the way they entice young people and children into their stores with these bizarre marketing strategies. They are a bit like the modern day childcatcher.
‘I think the other point to make is the landlords on Oxford Street obviously want to keep their premises open with tenants.But these shops don’t really do much for the ambiance of Oxford Street. They bring it down really.
‘So it is a bit of short termism by landlords I would suggest. They really want to be investing in their buildings and investing in the type of tenants that will draw more people in the long term.’
Ms Aiken said she was sure there were similar issues in other parts of the country, but the ‘concentration’ in Oxford Street made it obvious.
Campaign group Action On Sugar said the stores are exploiting a loophole that means imported US chocolates and candy do not face the same restrictions on sugar content as UK-made products.It means the American-themed superstores sell products containing almost treble the amount of sugar a British child should consume daily, even in a small single serving. Action On Sugar called the targeting of children ‘appalling’.
Wera Hobhouse, Lib Dem MP for Bath, said there were three American candy stores in her city, and called for the government to investigate the ‘loophole’ that allowed super-sweet US candy to be imported into Britain.
Officials probing retailers’ tax affairs are understood to be concerned about a purported tactic whereby bosses using a single store name set up numerous limited companies to serve as its legal owner, before closing the companies prior to them being liable for business rates. Two companies which share directors with Kingdom of Sweets – Croftray Limited and Old Green Limited – have already been wound up owing £2million in rates.
The council is also understood to be concerned about another alleged tactic used by rivals of Kingdom of Sweets which sees shops set up in empty buildings to avoid the landlord having to pay business rates on an empty premises, before closing and leaving before the shopkeepers become liable for the tax themselves.There is no suggestion Kingdom of Sweets has been doing this.
A spokesman for Kingdom of Sweets said: ‘We are a respectable business paying all relevant taxes and business rates. The issue of rival stores opening and then closing without paying business rates has had a detrimental impact on our trading in an extremely difficult environment.
‘As a responsible business we support plans to clamp down on this practice and will continue working with Westminster Council.’
There is no suggestion any of the shops pictured in this article are under investigation.
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