A STRUGGLING newsagent has been ordered to pay more than £1,600 after being caught selling alcohol to a child.

Vijay Wara, 53, admitted selling a bottle of Budweiser to a 16- year-old at Rochford News Centre, in West Street, when he appeared at Southend Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.

The boy was acting on behalf of Essex Trading Standards when he entered the store on April 6, after numerous reports over two years that Wara was selling alcohol to minors.

Richard Power, representing Trading Standards, told the court Wara had signed up to the “Challenge 25” programme in 2011, meaning he was volunteering to ask anyone who looked under the age of 25 for identification.

But, after receiving further reports of minors buying alcohol at the shop, officers attended again.

Mr Power said: “Another visit was made on April 4 after reports a 14-year-old girl returned home very drunk.

“Her parents were advised vodka had been purchased from the premises and Mr Wara was advised information had been received and of the precautions he should take. He was also told a test purchase would take place.”

Wara, who has run convenience stores in Dagenham and Rochford for 20 years, denied selling alcohol to a minor before April 6.

He told the court he thought he was serving the boy a can of Coke because of an illness brought on by the stress of his business suffering since Sainsbury’s Local opened nearby.

He said: “I had been diagnosed with a very bad fever and ended up in hospital for four weeks.

“This turned out to be an infection of the spine and one of the problems is you sometimes can’t see what it is – you begin to imagine things. The doctor called it meningitis-like symptoms.”

Chairman Martin Hampson said the bench took Wara’s problems into account and, rather than revoking or suspending his licence, fined him £350 and ordered him to pay a victim surcharge of £35 and costs of £1,233.

He added: “You have a moral responsibility towards children who come into your shop.”