from Phil Thomas, Trading Standards, Hampshire County Council

Sir; I read with interest your article on the so-called sting operation on a Bedfordshire retailer in which alcohol was sold to underage girls (‘Underhand tactics’, The Grocer, August 28, p27).
While one is tempted to feel sympathy for the shopkeeper, the story is a reminder that, in the words of Maurice Chevalier in Gigi, “little girls get bigger every day”. The constant claim by shopkeepers caught out on such test purchases is “they looked much older than I thought”.
The plain fact is, young people today do look considerably older than their counterparts did a generation ago and this is why in Hampshire we recommend that retailers impose a higher age limit of 21 when it comes to challenging age or asking for ID.
There was no suggestion that the retailer in Bedfordshire was to be prosecuted.
Test purchases can be informal, with scenarios used such as the one you reported, with young people acting as in the real world. But no formal enforcement action is taken.
Or the test is formal, in which case the code of practice should be complied with.
This means no jewellery, no attempt to make yourself look older, payment in small denomination coinage and answering truthfully if challenged.
Holders of off-licences have a difficult job, but they also have a responsibility to play their part in curbing the trend of alcohol consumption among 11-15 year-olds doubling in the last decade and 25% of 15-16 year olds admitting to three or more binge-drinking sessions a month. The drink-related problems of violence, assault, accidents and other antisocial behaviour are well documented.
Readers of your magazine must be on their guard to ensure they are not contributing to the problem.
You chose to publish photographs of the girls with undisguised faces. While I appreciate the press is exempt from the provisions of the Data Protection Act, there is a duty of care when the publication of photos of minors giving details of their location without their consent could put them at risk.
Had these girls been from Hampshire, I suspect their parents understandably would have been livid at their identities being made public.
n Editor’s note: We took legal advice before deciding to publish the photos. In the circumstances, we felt it important that readers were able to see the faces of the girls so that they could make up their own minds.