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Cracking the nut of illegal trading

  • Illegal traders, linked to organised crime, closed down in Tower Hamlets  
  • Food, thought to be bird seed and sold as caramelised nuts, was cooked using electricity illegally sourced from a nearby car repair shop 
  • Pollution from the illegal traders could be affecting the brickwork of Grade I and II listed bridges in London

A lock-up being used to store nuts sold by illegal street traders was closed on 7 March by Tower Hamlets Council in collaboration with Network Rail, amid concerns the occupiers supported organised criminal activity, failed to give workers the minimum wage or employment rights and failed to comply with reasonable health and safety standards.
Tower Hamlets Council Enforcement Officers detected the smell of nuts being cooked in a man- made, poorly constructed lock up inside railways arches of a lock-up in Mill Yard, E1, (near the Royal Mint).
The council began enforcement work against the occupiers when it was found that electricity to cook the nuts on Network Rail’s premises was being taken from a nearby car repair shop, authorised traders and local residents were complaining about pollution and waste, and it is thought the ‘nuts’ were actually for the consumption of birds.

The activities of peanut sellers in London are increasingly being looked at by council and police forces because traders could be victims of exploitation or trafficking.

City Police report that “peanut” traders can be taken to court in the morning, get a fine, have their nut trolley confiscated and they can be back trading in the afternoon, so enforcement activity against individual traders on the street has limited success.

There are also concerns that gas cylinders, used to keep the peanuts warm, are not being looked after properly, and could pose a risk of fire to the public.

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets said: “We want to ensure our residents and visitors to London are protected from the illegal trading activities of people who care more about making money, than the impact they are having on vulnerable people who can be forced to work in poor conditions, local people who face the waste from their activities and the heritage of our built environment.

“The scale of this issue is on the rise, and we are doing all we can to clamp down on it. We will continue to work in partnership to resolve the bigger issues that are plaguing London, including modern day slavery and people trafficking.”

Councillor Asma Begum, Cabinet Member for Community Safety added: “We fully support legal food traders who contribute to the capital by bringing an array of wonderful foods to residents and visitors. However, there are some illegal traders who are putting people at risk of food poisoning by their activities and could be preying on vulnerable people who are just trying to earn a living. This has serious consequences and we are working hard to resolve them.”

A partnership of councils and police from Tower Hamlets, Southwark and City of London, are now considering the best legal approach to tackle the problem of illegal trading in the capital.
The team are focussed on protecting the historical heritage of bridges along the Thames, many of which are Grade I or II listed, from the pollution caused by illegal traders.  The work also protects residents from hygiene issues associated with the street selling trade, and more vulnerable people from being exploited in the process as they try to make a living.

Tower Hamlets Council’s enforcement officers supported bailiffs  to confiscate containers, a nut trolley and a box of neon light sabres used for unlicensed street trading.
Ongoing work to clamp down on illegal traders continues. The illegal structure where the nuts were cooked will be pulled down and removed in the next two weeks.