Off-licence underage booze find

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TRADING Standards officers have caught 14 off-licences selling alcohol to underage drinkers in the past two years.

Figures released through a Freedom of Information request have revealed that in 2010 and 2011, some 99 test purchases were carried out in stings organised by Trading Standards officers across the borough.

The operations are based on intelligence gathered either by the police or given to Trading Standards by members of the public.

Once intelligence suggests a business is selling to under-18s, teenagers acting for Trading Standards are sent in to try and buy alcohol.

Offending shops will normally be issued with a fixed penalty notice, but more serious or repeat offenders can face court.

As an alternative to prosecution, officers can offer licence-holders the option of accepting a 48-hour closure notice banning them from selling alcohol rather than face criminal liability.

Julie Middlehurst, Wigan’s Chief Trading Standards Officer, believes the test purchase scheme is valuable in the fight against teenage drinking.

She said: “Alcohol test purchase sales have reduced in recent years due in part to the advice and support given to retailers by Trading Standards to help them avoid sales to under 18s. In particular, officers in Wigan provide training to off-licence staff as part of the Responsible Retailers Award Scheme and equip them with the knowledge and confidence to be able to challenge anyone who appears to be under age.

“Once all staff have been trained and the retailer has demonstrated that they are actively working to avoid underage sales, a ‘Responsible Retailer’ certificate will be awarded.

“Trading Standards are continuing to carry out test purchases at premises about whom they receive complaints. Any individual employee who sells alcohol to an underage volunteer will receive an £80 fixed penalty notice, while the Designated Premises Supervisor and/or Premises Licence Holder, may receive a warning, formal caution or summons depending on the circumstances of the sale and the procedures in place at the premises.

“In addition to any formal action taken against a retailer, officers work to address weak spots in the shop’s systems and help them to produce a practical action plan to ensure an improved performance with regards to underage sales.”