Episode 6 Call the Council


Episode 6

Series following council officers. The council faces a crisis when a Victorian mill starts to collapse, threatening homes, businesses and residents' lives.


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Transcript


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From waste and recycling...

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to pest control and trading standards...

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the taxes that we pay to our local councils are used

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to provide many of our most essential services.

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I like people who are keen to recycle.

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In this series, we follow the front-line staff

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working behind the walls of Tameside Town Hall in Greater Manchester.

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Like council officers across the country, these local heroes

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are waging war on those blighting our communities...

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-Oi, oi, oi!

-Excuse me.

-Excuse me, love. You can't do that.

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-..they're protecting us from hidden dangers...

-If there's rodent activity in your kitchen,

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you won't be opening tonight. It's that simple.

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..making sure our cash is spent on those who need it most...

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I'm at a loose end. I do not know where to turn.

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..and responding to their residents when they call the council.

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Coming up, the council race to rescue residents

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when a Victorian mill teeters on the brink of collapse,

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putting homes and lives at risk...

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We do need to start getting people away from the area.

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..officers tackle one of the most potentially dangerous situations

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they've ever faced and help residents on one street

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who live on toxic and potentially explosive land...

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The situation's still the same now as it was from day one.

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It's just a living hell.

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..and raid a business suspected of trading alcohol

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without a licence...

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This does not apply to us.

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What makes you think that?

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Across the UK, our local councils

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are the bedrock of the boroughs they serve.

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Heroic council officers nationwide fight hard to use our taxes

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to protect us and improve our lives.

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To do this job, you've got to be very firm,

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you've got to be very clear

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and other times when you've got to be very caring

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and very, very supportive of individuals.

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You're going to need a massive cross section of skills

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and be very pragmatic at the end of it.

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From hygiene inspections and bin collections

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to licensing and trading standards,

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hard-working council officers normally deal with

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the day-to-day tasks that keep our communities running.

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Today, officers have woken up to a crisis.

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Residents have called the council because their homes

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and lives are in danger.

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Overnight, heavy winds battered this giant Victorian mill

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situated next to a row of 14 terraced houses.

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The extreme weather has exposed weak points in the building's ageing walls

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that are now crumbling and close to collapse.

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You can see, obviously, the wall's bulging there.

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Council environmental services officer Mike Robinson

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is first on the scene.

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The mill that is home to almost 20 small businesses is

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fortunately empty, so his priority is the safety of local residents.

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I've spoken with the police inspector.

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Yeah. He's going to close the road off...

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With Mike busy on the ground, at the town hall,

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the emergency planning team has gathered.

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Made up of the council's key heads of department, the team is led by

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environmental services boss Ian Saxon.

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Make that decision with me and we'll have a discussion about it,

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but we'll err on the side of caution.

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It's fundamental that we protect public safety, and we have

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that kind of parental responsibility for the community, if you like.

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When we get the call, public safety is right at the top of the list

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of our priorities.

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With over 20 years' experience, environment and operations boss

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Mike Gurney knows just how serious this situation is.

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What's ironic, I should be at an emergency planning meeting now

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to talk about how to deal with an emergency situation.

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I think half of them think it's a table-top exercise. It isn't.

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-TELEPHONE RINGS

-It's live. Hello.

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It is looking precarious

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and we've got to plan for the worst-case scenario.

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It's a very old Victorian mill.

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If you look at the end there, you can see the wall bellying.

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They are extremely close, the houses are, aren't they?

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This one on the end, that shows the gap between the houses and the mill.

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Doesn't look good, does it?

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But there's an even more pressing problem.

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Head engineer Lee Holland's worried that the bad weather might return

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and cause more damage to the vulnerable wall of the mill.

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Have you had the update on the weather for tonight,

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-in terms of wind more than anything?

-That's a good point, Lee.

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If we get some high winds tonight, it will affect the gable even more so.

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That's the issue. It's the winds for tonight.

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Right. We'll pick up on that.

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With the threat of worsening weather, it's imperative that

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everyone in danger is evacuated as quickly as possible.

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Are you going to be leaving now?

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Because we do need to start getting people away from the area.

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All right. Give me a minute.

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-What a day! What a day!

-Tell me about it!

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Most people are heading to stay with friends or family,

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but for those without anywhere to go, the council will use a fund

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set aside for emergencies to put them up in a hotel.

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But it's not just residents that are at risk.

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The owners of the small businesses who are based in the mill

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are also being kept clear from the hazardous site.

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I run a gym in there.

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I've got customers, clients, that I'm telling I'm shut.

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My whole livelihood's in there, basically, so...

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it's scary.

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It's very difficult for businesses. I can completely understand

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the frustration. That's people's livelihoods. They've put lifelong savings into those businesses

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and they won't be able to get in. The cordon's there to protect them.

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It's going to be very, very frustrating.

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But neither businesses nor residents can return

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until the structural engineers decide whether the building

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can be saved or has to be demolished.

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I can see it being a few days, this.

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This is not going to be sorted out tomorrow.

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Still to come, the council's fight to get residents home quickly

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suffers a major set-back.

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HE SIGHS

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Not great news.

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While council crisis teams across the UK are responding

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to the emergency needs of their residents,

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elsewhere, other departments are working tirelessly to ensure fair play.

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Trading standards. Yes, I'll just put you through. Thank you.

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Illicit vodka, it would appear.

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Nationwide, trading standards officers like Carl Jones

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are responsible for making sure anyone selling alcohol to the public

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or to businesses has a licence to do so.

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Licences are strictly controlled and only granted to responsible

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businesses that adhere to their conditions.

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Failure to comply with licensing laws

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can result in a fine of up to £20,000

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or six months in prison.

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After receiving a tip-off from the police,

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Carl and the council team have been gathering intelligence

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on a business suspected of selling alcohol without a licence.

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Today, they're carrying out a dawn raid on the premises.

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This unit specialises in the wholesale sale of alcohol.

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There are beers, spirits and such

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and as such it's an offence for it to trade without an alcohol licence.

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Traders operating illegally are often hard to catch in the act.

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But the council's warrant allows the officers to break in

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and potentially pounce when they're least expecting them.

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Carl knows that the business doesn't have a licence to sell,

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which is curious when it has a name like this.

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It's not long before the team finds invoices for sales of alcohol.

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There you are. Vodka.

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Lamb's rum. Jack Daniel's.

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Courvoisier.

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-There's more alcohol.

-Is that purchased?

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There's no alcohol as such to be found.

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The paperwork does appear to show at this moment in time,

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we've only just had a quick look, that they are dealing substantially

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in alcohol and they don't have a licence to do that.

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Just hanging around for a few minutes.

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With evidence found, it's been a successful start to the officers' day.

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Coming up, Carl and Dave confront the traders with the proof

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that they're selling alcohol without a licence.

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You do need a licence to sell alcohol. That is the law.

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Across the borough, like councils nationwide, Tameside council

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is continuing to care for its residents in their hour of need.

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It is looking precarious

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and we've got to plan for the worst-case scenario.

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Following stormy weather,

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a Victorian mill is close to the point of collapse.

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In a bid to keep the residents of the 14 neighbouring terraces safe,

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the houses have been evacuated.

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Anna Squires and her young family have just minutes to prepare

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for an indefinite spell away from home.

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Still there.

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I've got no idea what's happening.

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No idea what's happening today.

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The rubbish collection was supposed to be today.

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Two weeks' worth of rubbish in my bin.

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Taking stuff, I don't know if I can go back to my house or not

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or what will be left after they start moving the mill. It's bizarre.

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But police constable Anna's situation is even more problematic

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because this week she's working the night shift.

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I don't like not knowing.

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I don't like not being in control, as I found out the last few hours.

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It's really hard to deal with and trying to stay positive

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for the children, and I'm supposed to be on nights this weekend,

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so I don't know what I'm going to do

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if we're getting asked to check out from the hotel tomorrow morning...

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I finish nights at ten o'clock tomorrow morning, don't know where I'm going to be sleeping.

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Little things like that are all still up in the air, but got to keep going.

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While the council wait for the mill to be made safe,

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they're booking residents without friends or family to stay with into a hotel.

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The council will cover the expense

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until residents can claim it back from their household insurance.

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-You're sleeping where?

-I'm sleeping here.

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-Where are you sleeping, Gabriel?

-Where's your bed?

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-That's your bed.

-Luckily, Anna and husband Simon's children

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are totally unaware of the threat their family home is under.

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Their worried parents are already desperate to get back.

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It's been a long day since we found out.

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-Yeah, and it was only a few hours ago.

-Definitely been a long day.

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It's been a bit of a roller coaster.

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I think psychologically we have to psych ourselves up

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for being away from the house for at least a week.

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After two nights that have been booked, we don't know where we're going

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cos we haven't got anyone we can go to.

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Only the council can decide when it's safe for evacuated residents

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like the Squires to return home.

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Environmental services head Ian Saxon is well aware that

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this needs careful management.

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The really important thing is that these residents don't feel like

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we've kind of evacuated them and then left them and forgotten them.

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The first night you can cope with. But after the first night, it's going to become a bit of a pain.

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A really challenging aspect of this job is not knowing how long

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it's going to go on for. That's the challenge for me

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cos I don't know how long I need resources for.

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For the families that were evacuated, that must be absolute hell.

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And that's frustrating for everybody involved.

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But there is some good news.

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With the area cleared of anyone who could be in danger,

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the building contractors have been given the green light to start work.

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They'll begin with the dangerous outer wall, before more damage

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-is done by the weather.

-The equipment's coming together.

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You can see from the scale of the equipment that it's not going

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to be a two-minute job. So we need to be thinking,

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looking forward about how we support the residents, maybe over a continued period of a few days.

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But things are starting to come together.

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The sooner they can start that work,

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then the sooner we can get the residents back in.

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Still to come, just as the council starts to make progress,

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Ian receives a call that puts his plans to get people home quickly on hold.

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Not great news.

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While the council battle with an emergency that needs

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immediate attention on one side of the borough,

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residents elsewhere also need help.

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But homeowners here on Redmond Close

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have been under the council's care for 20 years.

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Across the UK, there are over 20,000 former landfill sites.

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Houses on one half of this close have been built on top of one such previous landfill.

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To adhere to regulations,

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a ventilation system should have been fitted to allow toxic gases

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to escape safely as the waste decomposes.

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Unfortunately for the residents of these 11 houses, that didn't happen

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and they're living under the constant fear of being blown up.

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I think it's been recognised as one of the most dangerous sites

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in the country with the gases that are coming out into these houses

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from the waste underneath them.

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So it comes back again to public safety

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for these residents living on this time bomb, really.

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We've had various evacuations already taken place on that street

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and it's been difficult to get them to go back into their homes

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on those evacuations because of the fear.

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So we have a statutory obligation to make sure this situation

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is resolved for them.

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As well as helping manage the crisis at the mill,

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council officer Mike Gurney has been doing all he can to keep

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this situation under control.

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Today, Mike is inspecting the area

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with environmental services manager Gary Mongan.

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So, this is the old site which used to be clay pits

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for the production of bricks. After the clay was all excavated,

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a private contractor then came in and basically filled the entire

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empty pitch with domestic and commercial waste.

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Once the site was filled, it was then capped

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and more or less left as it is now.

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In the UK, there are over 4,000 active landfill sites.

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Capping them is common practice,

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but building on them is highly regulated.

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Unfortunately, in the 1970s when these houses were built,

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planning controls weren't as strict

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and the current councillors now inherited this problem.

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The houses built we believed to be on the edge of the tip,

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although in subsequent years, we've later found that this first row

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of Redmond Close was in fact built on top of the tip

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and the waste runs underneath them.

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As all this waste is decomposing, obviously the methane gas

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is coming out of the ground and it's coming into their properties.

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Methane generated from the decomposing waste

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is fatal when trapped in a confined space.

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Inhalation causes nausea, vomiting

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and in extreme cases can induce a coma and death by suffocation.

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But even more significantly, it's highly explosive.

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There could be a build-up of gas and these houses explode and demolish

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the row and the residents' houses facing, depending on the blast.

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Gas levels are constantly monitored

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and on occasions the residents have had to be evacuated.

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To release them from living under this constant fear,

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the council have two options -

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demolish the houses or install pipework to enable

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the lethal gases to escape.

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That will have ongoing maintenance costs to the council,

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ongoing risks still, we're not removing the risks doing that.

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The other solution would be to purchase their properties,

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give the families the money of the valuation of the house

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and then demolish. That would remove all the risks

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and that would seem the most obvious and practical solution.

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Because of their situation,

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the houses currently aren't worth a penny.

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But the council has had three independent valuations

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made of each house and offered residents a guaranteed price

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based on their market values.

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But to take any action, they need the residents to reach a consensus.

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Residents Carol and Keith Stockwell are desperate to move

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before an explosion takes place.

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It is constantly on my mind all the time.

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I mean, you talk to people that you don't see very often

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and they say, "How are you going on with the problem?"

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They just can't believe that the situation's still the same now

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as it was from day one. It's just a living hell.

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You've got that anxiety all the time, hoping that...

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it won't happen. But one time, it may happen.

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Still to come, can the residents of Redmond Close come to an agreement?

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Will they stay where they are and opt for an engineering solution

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or accept the council's offer and leave Redmond Close for good?

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This close, in my opinion, is going to be a close what's a ghost town.

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At the council HQ, officers' persistence means traders

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operating outside of the law are about to be taken to task.

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After a dawn raid revealed documents proving a wholesaler is

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selling alcohol without a licence, council officers Carl Jones

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and Dave Smith have invited the traders into the council

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for questioning.

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We've removed paperwork which shows evidence you've been trading

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in alcohol products.

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Really, that is the reason why we've asked you here today.

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This is correct because we are allowed to sell alcohol.

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We're not selling to the public.

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If we are selling directly to the public, then we need the licence.

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-Who are you selling to?

-We are selling to the shopkeeper only.

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We are not selling to the public at all, so this does not apply to us.

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-What makes you think that?

-This is the law.

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You do need a licence to sell alcohol. That is the law.

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-But we were thinking that this is the licence here.

-What, this?

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They gave us classification of what we can sell,

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what we are selling here.

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-They allowed us.

-But that's to do with the VAT.

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It's nothing to do with your alcohol licence.

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The fact they haven't got a licence means he can't deal alcohol, full stop.

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We found proof they'd been dealing in alcohol,

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and that was enough, because we knew he didn't have an alcohol licence.

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It's nice to meet you both, anyway.

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-You can sit back through there.

-Cheers.

-Thanks for your time.

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The officers gave the traders seven days to apply for a licence,

0:19:200:19:24

but were later informed that they'd stopped selling alcohol altogether.

0:19:240:19:28

The work of the heroic officers on this case is another example

0:19:280:19:31

of our local council keeping on top of traders operating outside of the law.

0:19:310:19:36

Alongside the day-to-day demands

0:19:410:19:44

of keeping their communities running smoothly,

0:19:440:19:47

the UK's local councils also have to make provisions

0:19:470:19:50

for dealing with the unexpected.

0:19:500:19:52

For Tameside council, the problems are coming thick and fast.

0:19:520:19:56

For the past two days, engineers have been trying to make the mill

0:19:560:19:59

that's perilously close to collapse safe.

0:19:590:20:02

The mill owner is paying for the structural work,

0:20:020:20:04

but the council is using their emergency fund to cover the cost

0:20:040:20:07

of making the site secure and re-homing residents

0:20:070:20:10

until their home insurances pay out.

0:20:100:20:13

Ian Saxon is leading the council's emergency planning team,

0:20:170:20:21

and is pushing for a swift resolution to protect their budgets.

0:20:210:20:24

I'm down at Park Road.

0:20:240:20:26

I was just looking for a bit of an update in terms of your...

0:20:260:20:29

plan of attack and time frame?

0:20:290:20:33

But there's a major set-back.

0:20:330:20:36

That cement material, the cladding?

0:20:360:20:39

Asbestos has been discovered in the mill.

0:20:390:20:42

The news that there's asbestos in the building does come as a little bit of a shock,

0:20:420:20:46

but, again, we've got to protect public safety,

0:20:460:20:48

so what we don't want to do is make a bad situation even worse by ignoring that.

0:20:480:20:52

No activity? So it's just a kind of holding position

0:20:530:20:56

from a security point of view?

0:20:560:20:57

All right, bye-bye. Bye.

0:20:570:20:59

HE SIGHS

0:21:040:21:06

Not great news.

0:21:060:21:08

Asbestos is the single greatest cause of death at work in the UK.

0:21:090:21:14

Every year, thousands of people die after exposure,

0:21:140:21:17

mainly through contracting lung cancer

0:21:170:21:20

after inhaling the deadly asbestos fibres.

0:21:200:21:23

Before work on the mill can continue,

0:21:240:21:26

the asbestos has to be removed by specialist contractors,

0:21:260:21:30

which means more time away from home for the residents.

0:21:300:21:34

I don't think they're going to be angry residents,

0:21:340:21:37

hopefully they're not angry. There are good reasons for that delay.

0:21:370:21:40

In all honesty, asbestos is a dangerous material.

0:21:400:21:43

What we don't want to do is expose demolition contractors to a risk.

0:21:430:21:46

For Anna, this is seriously bad news.

0:21:480:21:50

With two young children, living in the hotel is tough,

0:21:500:21:53

and she's desperate to get home.

0:21:530:21:56

Do you think we'll get in today?

0:21:560:21:57

He's running low on school uniforms and stuff!

0:21:570:22:00

As far as I'm aware, there's still no access beyond the cordon.

0:22:000:22:05

My kids want to go home. It's, erm...

0:22:050:22:08

Little things like that are starting to worry me.

0:22:080:22:11

Access to the homes is strictly controlled,

0:22:110:22:15

but Mike Gurney's on hand to assess the danger,

0:22:150:22:17

and lets Anna and husband Simon get some much-needed supplies.

0:22:170:22:22

There's no work started at the moment.

0:22:220:22:24

If you can escort her to her house, very quickly grab what you need.

0:22:240:22:28

Thank you. Appreciate that, Mike, yeah. Brilliant, thank you.

0:22:280:22:31

Thank you kindly.

0:22:330:22:35

The news that there's asbestos kind of slows things down,

0:22:350:22:38

and again it leads to frustration within the community.

0:22:380:22:40

It's not easy to understand that when you're evacuated from your home

0:22:400:22:43

and you've got another two or three nights in a hotel.

0:22:430:22:46

That's not just a bow any more, that's leaning.

0:22:460:22:48

Ready to go, isn't it?

0:22:480:22:50

Grabbed a few essentials, just more uniform changes for the boys,

0:22:500:22:55

some tops for me, selfishly.

0:22:550:22:58

-And...the iron!

-SHE LAUGHS

0:22:580:23:00

But, for the displaced residents, good news is just around the corner.

0:23:010:23:06

Quick update from the scene.

0:23:070:23:10

Mike and I have just been down and seen

0:23:100:23:13

demolition contractors are there, asbestos removal contractors are there,

0:23:130:23:16

so it looks like they're about to press the "go" button.

0:23:160:23:19

Still to come,

0:23:200:23:22

with asbestos cleared, the fate of the mill is decided,

0:23:220:23:25

but the residents must wait to find out just how much longer

0:23:250:23:28

they'll be away from home.

0:23:280:23:30

I keep looking at my door key longingly.

0:23:300:23:33

When can I use that again?

0:23:330:23:37

In contrast to road repairs, waste collection and pest control,

0:23:420:23:45

many of the essential services our country's local councils provide

0:23:450:23:49

go on unseen.

0:23:490:23:51

Unless, that is, you do something wrong.

0:23:510:23:54

Trading standards officers Carl Jones and Tracy Jones-Lacy

0:23:540:23:57

are now dealing with a call to the council about a beautician

0:23:570:24:01

who could be selling more than pedicures and highlights.

0:24:010:24:04

We do a lot of work with other agencies,

0:24:040:24:06

and we were contacted by the UK Border Agency,

0:24:060:24:08

who informed us that a hairdresser's in Denton

0:24:080:24:10

was allegedly dealing in counterfeit handbags.

0:24:100:24:14

Together with their trading standards colleagues across the country,

0:24:140:24:17

Carl and Tracy face an enormous task to stem the tide of fake goods.

0:24:170:24:22

Counterfeit products cost the UK economy over £1 billion a year.

0:24:220:24:27

In one year alone, Border Force agents seized 32,000 items

0:24:270:24:32

in the post and 1,300 consignments at the country's ports.

0:24:320:24:36

The report is that it's selling items imported from India.

0:24:390:24:44

Could be anything, so we'll go in and see what we can find out.

0:24:440:24:48

Carl and Tracy have received details of the flights

0:24:480:24:51

the business owner, Mrs Maguire, has taken in the past few months.

0:24:510:24:55

She's made many more trips abroad than they consider normal

0:24:550:24:58

for a casual holiday-maker.

0:24:580:25:00

-Warmer in here.

-It's a bit warmer in here.

-Hello, Cleopatra's?

0:25:000:25:04

While Mrs Maguire takes a booking, Carl takes the opportunity

0:25:040:25:08

to check out what could be counterfeit handbags and purses

0:25:080:25:11

for sale in the display cabinet.

0:25:110:25:13

We've received some intelligence that, erm...

0:25:130:25:16

-..that you travel quite a lot to India?

-Oh, God, that again?

0:25:170:25:20

-Mrs Maguire, is it?

-Yeah.

0:25:200:25:23

And that you're bringing stuff back that maybe you shouldn't do.

0:25:230:25:27

-Right.

-Is that what it is, is it handbags?

0:25:270:25:30

It's just... Yeah, I just bring two or three back, that's all.

0:25:300:25:33

Right, OK. Are these the items that you...you bring back?

0:25:330:25:37

-Just that handbag.

-Just this handbag?

-Actually, that handbag was mine.

-Right.

0:25:370:25:41

Where do you buy these from, when you're abroad?

0:25:410:25:44

Just from a little shop in...where I go on holiday.

0:25:440:25:47

Because they're not genuine.

0:25:470:25:48

-No, I know, darling.

-I know,

0:25:480:25:51

but by bringing them back and selling them in this country,

0:25:510:25:54

you're committing an offence.

0:25:540:25:56

Selling fake designer goods like these carries a maximum penalty

0:25:560:26:00

of a £5,000 fine and six months in prison per offence.

0:26:000:26:04

As well as avoiding tax, sellers deprive manufacturers of revenue,

0:26:040:26:08

and trick unsuspecting consumers into buying inferior goods.

0:26:080:26:12

I know they're fake, but I really didn't know I was doing any wrong

0:26:120:26:15

by...by selling these, because the price says it all.

0:26:150:26:20

But you're trying to...

0:26:200:26:22

-No, I do tell people.

-Right.

0:26:220:26:24

I do tell them, I don't say that they're real.

0:26:240:26:27

Strangely enough,

0:26:270:26:29

the money I try to make from this I put to the children's home.

0:26:290:26:33

I'm not really doing anything wrong, but obviously I am in your eyes.

0:26:330:26:37

-Yeah, unfortunately.

-Here you are, Tracy. There's a load here.

0:26:370:26:42

As the investigation continues,

0:26:440:26:46

Carl and Tracy uncover 60 fake bags and purses.

0:26:460:26:50

-Are there any more anywhere, Mrs Maguire?

-No.

-No?

0:26:500:26:53

-You didn't tell us about these, did you?

-I'm all confused here.

0:26:530:26:58

'We discovered approximately 60 counterfeit handbags,'

0:26:580:27:01

counterfeit of, say, Radley handbags, Prada, very expensive items

0:27:010:27:05

I think would cost four-figure sums.

0:27:050:27:07

And they were nice-quality counterfeits. They looked nice, they looked the part.

0:27:070:27:10

There's too much here to just, you know, let it go, really,

0:27:100:27:14

so what we're going to do, we're going to have to seize all these items, OK?

0:27:140:27:17

You'll get a receipt for the items, and then we'll be in touch, OK?

0:27:170:27:21

We didn't expect to find this kind of seizure

0:27:210:27:24

in a little backstreet hairdresser's.

0:27:240:27:27

We reckon there's probably about three or £4,000 worth of genuine stock here.

0:27:270:27:31

I know she's only selling it for £10, £5,

0:27:310:27:34

but there's still no excuse.

0:27:340:27:37

They're trying to be what they're not.

0:27:370:27:39

-I won't do it again.

-Right.

0:27:390:27:42

We'll be in touch, Mrs Maguire, OK? Thank you.

0:27:420:27:45

'When I do go to India, and I haven't done it for a long time,'

0:27:470:27:50

but I do try to sell them for the children of the streets in India.

0:27:500:27:54

I do go to the children's orphanages, and I help out there.

0:27:540:27:59

These children, if they don't eat, they die.

0:27:590:28:03

70.

0:28:030:28:06

After examination, the handbags and purses were destroyed by the council,

0:28:060:28:10

who issued Mrs Maguire with a formal caution.

0:28:100:28:13

She's still operating as a beautician,

0:28:130:28:15

and still selling handbags, only now they're unbranded.

0:28:150:28:19

We deal with each thing individually.

0:28:190:28:21

We've never had a problem with that lady.

0:28:210:28:23

She's a long-standing trader, a very nice person,

0:28:230:28:26

and I think the most appropriate course of action is to say,

0:28:260:28:29

"Look, please don't do this again."

0:28:290:28:30

Maybe she didn't realise what she was doing, to be honest with you,

0:28:300:28:33

the full implications of it, and I'm sure she won't do it again.

0:28:330:28:37

Tracy and Carl's is a small success in the national war on fake goods,

0:28:370:28:42

and if you think something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

0:28:420:28:47

To protect yourself against buying counterfeit goods,

0:28:470:28:50

check the quality of the product,

0:28:500:28:51

and look for giveaways like spelling mistakes.

0:28:510:28:54

You can also ask the trader whether they offer

0:28:540:28:56

an after-sales service or guarantee.

0:28:560:28:59

Across the country, the UK's local council officers

0:29:080:29:11

are fighting a determined battle to keep us safe from danger,

0:29:110:29:15

whatever form it takes.

0:29:150:29:17

Residents on one side of Redmond Close in Tameside

0:29:180:29:21

are living under the watchful eye of their council.

0:29:210:29:24

Their houses have been built on an old landfill site

0:29:240:29:28

that's emitting toxic and potentially explosive gases.

0:29:280:29:31

The council inherited this issue,

0:29:310:29:33

and is now dutifully helping the residents find a resolution.

0:29:330:29:37

They presented the homeowners with two options,

0:29:370:29:40

an engineering solution, or the council's preferred choice,

0:29:400:29:44

purchase and demolition.

0:29:440:29:46

But, for the council to act, the residents must reach a consensus,

0:29:460:29:50

something which is proving hard to do.

0:29:500:29:53

Until enough residents agree,

0:29:560:29:58

council officers like Andy make frequent visits to their homes

0:29:580:30:01

to monitor the levels of the dangerous gases.

0:30:010:30:05

-Hiya, come in.

-Hi, Mrs Stockwell.

0:30:050:30:08

As you know, Andrew,

0:30:080:30:09

our property is the epicentre of Redmond Close with this methane gas.

0:30:090:30:15

Yeah, it's always had the worst readings

0:30:150:30:17

out of the whole street, really, hasn't it?

0:30:170:30:20

So, has it been OK for you

0:30:200:30:22

-since last time I checked it?

-It's been quite low since you last came.

0:30:220:30:25

OK, that's good.

0:30:250:30:27

The council fitted each house with a monitor 14 years ago.

0:30:270:30:31

If the concentration of methane hits dangerous levels,

0:30:310:30:34

an alarm is triggered.

0:30:340:30:36

This is the alarm panel in here, and it's got two sensors on it.

0:30:360:30:41

So it's on channel one, it flicks between channel one and channel two.

0:30:410:30:44

5% methane by volume is 100% LEL.

0:30:440:30:47

It's about zero at the moment.

0:30:470:30:49

LEL is the lower explosion limit.

0:30:490:30:52

If the LEL reading reaches 100%, the house could blow up.

0:30:520:30:56

At 40%, they start to evacuate the homes.

0:30:560:31:00

We've found concentrations up to about 75% LEL,

0:31:000:31:05

but that's only in little kind of locations

0:31:050:31:08

near to where the gas is ingressing.

0:31:080:31:11

Once you measure outside of that area,

0:31:110:31:13

the gas is kind of dispersing within the atmosphere,

0:31:130:31:17

so it's not building up to a concentration.

0:31:170:31:19

However, there's an indication that the gas is still getting in,

0:31:190:31:22

which is the reason why we're doing all the works that are necessary

0:31:220:31:26

to try and fix the site.

0:31:260:31:28

So, I'll just download the data,

0:31:280:31:30

and it looks like the alarm system is working fine.

0:31:300:31:34

-It's zero...

-What's all these high blue ones?

0:31:340:31:37

-Possibly just a bit of gas, maybe.

-They look quite high, those.

0:31:370:31:40

-I mean, compared with the red ones.

-It's dependent on the scale, you see.

0:31:400:31:44

Here, it's only going up to a maximum of 6.5 at the top up here,

0:31:440:31:48

so it's reading from about 0 up to about 6.5.

0:31:480:31:51

I can check in the back, if that's OK,

0:31:510:31:54

just to see in the worst-case areas whether there's any gas there,

0:31:540:31:57

and also just to check the readings at the sensor

0:31:570:32:00

just to make sure that this, that my machine...

0:32:000:32:02

-That one corresponds with the other?

-Yeah, just to make sure.

0:32:020:32:05

The sensors that trigger the alarm are placed at several points in the house.

0:32:050:32:08

BEEPING

0:32:080:32:10

To check they're sending correct readings to the alarm,

0:32:100:32:12

Andrew uses a portable sensor that analyses the molecules in the air.

0:32:120:32:18

Just, erm... The sensor's over here,

0:32:180:32:20

so I'll just take a reading down here to make sure that...

0:32:200:32:23

What we've got on the sensor at the moment

0:32:230:32:25

from when we looked at it just before was a reading of about zero,

0:32:250:32:29

so it should be holding at zero.

0:32:290:32:32

You've had a reading of 30 there in the past, haven't you?

0:32:330:32:36

-I think we had it up to 75 here.

-Up to 75 in that corner.

0:32:360:32:40

If that sensor had been here,

0:32:400:32:43

we'd have been having the fire brigade out every few seconds

0:32:430:32:48

to evacuate the close, that's what happens when it reaches 40.

0:32:480:32:52

You can't really imagine what it's like to be going to bed at night,

0:32:540:32:57

looking at your alarm,

0:32:570:32:58

and seeing that the alarm is starting to go up to the degree

0:32:580:33:02

where it could go off in the night, where there's gas coming in.

0:33:020:33:05

I just can't imagine what they're going through.

0:33:050:33:07

It doesn't bear thinking about, really.

0:33:070:33:09

The alarms have sounded over 100 times in the last 14 years,

0:33:090:33:13

resulting in residents being forced to ventilate their homes immediately.

0:33:130:33:17

With the constant threat of explosion, the council needs to act.

0:33:170:33:21

They believe the best solution is to demolish the homes

0:33:210:33:24

so they're offering to buy them.

0:33:240:33:26

The houses aren't worth anything as they stand,

0:33:260:33:28

because they're contaminated with gas,

0:33:280:33:30

but some people may feel they want to hold out for more money,

0:33:300:33:34

and there's a whole range of issues of why

0:33:340:33:36

they may or may not want to sell to the council.

0:33:360:33:39

But not enough residents can agree, and time is running out.

0:33:390:33:43

The pot of money the council has ring-fenced to solve the problem

0:33:430:33:47

is being put under increasing pressure,

0:33:470:33:49

and could be spent on other essential services.

0:33:490:33:52

As things are, everybody's not in the same boat,

0:33:520:33:55

so...we're back to square one,

0:33:550:33:59

that we don't know whether we're going or we won't be going,

0:33:590:34:02

because we can see the offer being withdrawn in the near future,

0:34:020:34:06

and an engineering solution installed,

0:34:060:34:10

and, after all that, at the end of the day,

0:34:100:34:14

the properties are still worthless.

0:34:140:34:17

This close, in time, in my opinion, when I'm thinking about it,

0:34:170:34:22

is going to be a close what's a ghost town.

0:34:220:34:26

Coming up, the fate of the residents hangs in the balance.

0:34:260:34:31

We've been talking about it for far too long

0:34:310:34:33

and not actually brought it to a conclusion.

0:34:330:34:35

While the council and residents of Redmond Close

0:34:450:34:47

wait for their future to be decided,

0:34:470:34:49

Mike Gurney turns his attention to his duties

0:34:490:34:52

at the council's crematorium.

0:34:520:34:54

In the UK, there are around 14,000 cemeteries,

0:34:540:34:58

and it's the job of our councils to manage the majority of them.

0:34:580:35:03

Mike and his team maintain Tameside's eight cemeteries.

0:35:030:35:07

Today, Mike is dealing with a call to the council

0:35:090:35:12

from a resident who's arranging a funeral.

0:35:120:35:15

Mike's first task is to find the family's plot, which is not easy.

0:35:150:35:19

A lot of them don't have headstones, so it's not always straightforward,

0:35:190:35:22

cos sometimes we've found headstones have been put on the wrong grave,

0:35:220:35:26

so we don't take that for granted it's right, we check the plans first.

0:35:260:35:28

Reopening a grave is not a job taken lightly,

0:35:280:35:31

and Mike can draw on an extensive archive

0:35:310:35:34

created over centuries gone by to get it right.

0:35:340:35:38

So, this was a grave bought in 1933, and, as you can see,

0:35:380:35:41

we're opening the grave next week for another burial.

0:35:410:35:44

Grave found, Mike now has to find the plot in the cemetery

0:35:440:35:48

by working his way through the headstones,

0:35:480:35:51

some of which date back to the 17th century.

0:35:510:35:54

All the graves have got numbers on them, obviously. That's important.

0:35:540:35:58

When the headstones come in, we insist on the grave numbers going on

0:35:580:36:01

to make it, you know, easier to locate graves.

0:36:010:36:04

I'm just going to get a copy of my plan up now.

0:36:040:36:07

My guess, then, it's round about here.

0:36:070:36:09

-Can we hand-dig this, or the machine can get it, can't it?

-Yeah, machine.

0:36:120:36:15

OK, so just take a piece out for us, John.

0:36:150:36:17

We're identifying the grave so that if John isn't here

0:36:170:36:20

when somebody comes to dig it, we know which grave it is.

0:36:200:36:23

They'll have the ticket, they'll have the number,

0:36:230:36:25

and it's just to show it's been picked as the right grave.

0:36:250:36:27

This'll be checked again when it's dug by the supervisor to make sure it's dug to the right size,

0:36:270:36:31

and, on the day of the funeral, the registrar will double-check

0:36:310:36:34

before the funeral arrives that everything's in order,

0:36:340:36:37

so there's various checks take place behind the scenes.

0:36:370:36:39

Once marked, the grave-digging can commence.

0:36:410:36:45

Come rain or shine, that job falls to Jeff and Danny.

0:36:450:36:49

Between them, they've dug thousands of graves.

0:36:490:36:52

-It's just sucked that into the ground.

-What has?

0:36:560:36:58

Today, they're digging a new grave ahead of the funeral

0:36:580:37:01

that's taking place in just a few days' time.

0:37:010:37:04

But they are battling against the waterlogged ground

0:37:040:37:06

after the recent bout of bad weather.

0:37:060:37:09

This ground is unstable.

0:37:110:37:13

It'll just fall in. If we don't shut it up, it'll just collapse.

0:37:130:37:17

If it was solid clay, it's got a stability,

0:37:170:37:20

but because it's sand, it's not.

0:37:200:37:22

As I was trimming the side, it kind of fell away.

0:37:220:37:25

The ground on here's so dodgy that we have to get sets in

0:37:250:37:28

as soon as we can, really, otherwise there's a risk of collapse.

0:37:280:37:31

The metal sets shore up the sides of the graves,

0:37:310:37:33

making it safe for Jeff and Danny to continue digging.

0:37:330:37:37

Carrying out this arduous task gives them time to reflect

0:37:370:37:40

on the job in hand.

0:37:400:37:42

Being a grave-digger definitely does give you a different aspect

0:37:420:37:45

-on death, doesn't it?

-Yeah.

-Like, you accept it more...

0:37:450:37:49

-don't you?

-Yeah.

0:37:490:37:51

Cos, like you said, being a grave-digger, it makes you...

0:37:510:37:53

-it's just an everyday part of life, isn't it?

-Yeah.

0:37:530:37:56

The amount of people that we bury...

0:37:560:37:57

It's a bit emotional, yeah, if you know the person,

0:37:570:38:00

especially if they're about the same age as you. Yeah.

0:38:000:38:03

Or it's a young person. Yeah.

0:38:030:38:06

The burden these council officers carry is often overlooked,

0:38:080:38:11

but their work is part of an essential service

0:38:110:38:14

offered by all of our councils nationwide.

0:38:140:38:16

Danny got the good deal, he was on the machine.

0:38:160:38:19

I got, er, the short end of the straw.

0:38:190:38:23

I had to go in the hole!

0:38:230:38:25

This is the final one, but it's the most awkward one.

0:38:250:38:29

The most awkwardest one,

0:38:290:38:30

cos it gets pretty tight once you get down to the bottom.

0:38:300:38:33

The grave is shored up and ready for the funeral.

0:38:330:38:36

-Sorted, Jeff.

-Yeah, we're in, aren't we?

0:38:360:38:39

Thanks to the work going on behind the scenes at this cemetery,

0:38:390:38:42

another family can be reassured that their council is helping

0:38:420:38:45

to lighten their load at this difficult time.

0:38:450:38:48

We always like to do a proper job, and we always do our best.

0:38:480:38:52

I think if you do your best, that's...

0:38:520:38:55

I think that should be good enough, you can say you've tried.

0:38:550:38:58

Sheet. Shut it up, and sheet it up.

0:38:580:39:01

Shut it up and sheet it up. Yeah.

0:39:010:39:04

Across town, there's progress on Redmond Close.

0:39:150:39:19

Owners of the 11 houses at risk from explosive gases

0:39:190:39:23

have formed a consensus,

0:39:230:39:24

and all but one homeowner has accepted the council's offer

0:39:240:39:28

to buy their houses from them so they can now be demolished.

0:39:280:39:31

Environmental service boss Ian Saxon has also secured the funds

0:39:320:39:37

that were in danger of being spent elsewhere.

0:39:370:39:39

Well, the latest update is that we've got the money through,

0:39:410:39:45

the council's still got the money to actually purchase

0:39:450:39:48

and demolish the whole of the row of houses that you can see there.

0:39:480:39:51

All the residents now, bar one,

0:39:510:39:53

are quite comfortable with the purchase and demolition option.

0:39:530:39:56

That just leaves one house, right at the very end, which will remain,

0:39:560:40:00

and we can do an individual engineering solution on that,

0:40:000:40:03

so it kind of works very well, really, for everybody.

0:40:030:40:06

This is great news for families like the Stockwells,

0:40:060:40:09

who will finally be able to move on and make a fresh start.

0:40:090:40:13

They gave us a good price, which we were quite happy with, wasn't it?

0:40:140:40:19

-Yeah, quite happy to accept that.

-And we were willing to go.

0:40:190:40:21

I personally feel relieved that this has been concluded.

0:40:210:40:24

We've been talking about it for far too long

0:40:240:40:27

and not actually brought it to a conclusion, so to bring it,

0:40:270:40:29

hopefully, to a speedy and safe conclusion is a massive relief.

0:40:290:40:34

For nearly 20 years, Ian and his council colleagues

0:40:340:40:37

have been protecting the people who live here.

0:40:370:40:40

Now, residents and council can begin to plan for a future

0:40:400:40:43

where lives aren't at risk and resources are better utilised.

0:40:430:40:46

While the future for one set of residents has been decided,

0:40:540:40:57

others are also nearing the end of their ordeal.

0:40:570:41:00

RUBBLE CLATTERS

0:41:000:41:03

With asbestos removed, the mill that was threatening to collapse

0:41:040:41:07

next to a row of houses is finally being demolished.

0:41:070:41:11

After four weeks away from home,

0:41:160:41:18

the residents whose houses were under threat can begin to plan

0:41:180:41:21

for life returning to normal.

0:41:210:41:23

I keep looking at my door key longingly.

0:41:230:41:26

When can I use that again?

0:41:260:41:29

On inspection of the site,

0:41:330:41:34

it's obvious to council officers Mike and Ian

0:41:340:41:37

that evacuating the residents to safety was the right decision.

0:41:370:41:40

The contractors have just said to me that it came down very easily,

0:41:400:41:44

and the...assessments last week were right.

0:41:440:41:47

-It was still moving over the last couple of days, the top two floors.

-I got that impression.

0:41:470:41:51

They didn't have to drag it down. They nudged it and the whole lot's come down, really.

0:41:510:41:55

-You can see that's coming down so quickly.

-Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

0:41:550:41:58

Because of the council's swift intervention,

0:41:580:42:01

the residents of this street were taken out of harm's way

0:42:010:42:04

and protected by these heroic officers.

0:42:040:42:07

And the day they can move home is in sight.

0:42:070:42:10

It would be nice to get home now, as well as looking at it!

0:42:120:42:16

-Are you going to fix the mill?

-Yeah.

0:42:160:42:18

-I can do it.

-You can do it, you can do anything.

0:42:180:42:21

I...I'm big and strong.

0:42:210:42:23

You are big and strong!

0:42:230:42:25

Like their council colleagues nationwide,

0:42:270:42:29

it's been another successful shift for these heroic officers.

0:42:290:42:33

They've offered to buy residents' toxic homes

0:42:330:42:35

to enable them to move out and on with their lives...

0:42:350:42:39

To bring it hopefully to a speedy and a safe conclusion

0:42:390:42:42

is a massive relief.

0:42:420:42:44

..clamped down on a business selling counterfeit goods...

0:42:440:42:48

There's too much here to just let it go, really,

0:42:480:42:51

so what we're going to do, we'll have to seize all these items.

0:42:510:42:54

..and helped local residents return to their homes

0:42:540:42:57

once the threat of a collapsing mill was removed.

0:42:570:43:00

But, most importantly, they've worked tirelessly

0:43:000:43:02

to help their residents when they called the council.

0:43:020:43:05

If you get your motivation and you come into work for a pat on the back

0:43:050:43:08

from the community, then you're not necessarily in the right job!

0:43:080:43:11

But in terms of seeing improvement within the community,

0:43:110:43:14

seeing impact, then it's a great job,

0:43:140:43:16

and that's what makes people give that extra ten, that extra 15%,

0:43:160:43:21

which makes all the difference.

0:43:210:43:24

The council faces a crisis when a Victorian mill starts to collapse, threatening homes, businesses and residents' lives. The Trading Standards team stamp out the illegal import of fake designer handbags and clamp down on businesses selling alcohol without a licence.


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