There is anecdotal evidence that gangs of youths are being used by some police forces to intimidate shop staff into selling to under-18s, and children are being encouraged to lie about their age when challenged, according to the ACS.
This contravenes the test purchasing code of practice of Trading Standards officers and the association will be making a complaint to the Home Office.
ACS chief executive David Rae said that the tactics were out of order. “This type of activity is clearly designed to entrap retailers and staff and is not acceptable.”
However, a Home Office spokesman said that it was for each authority to carry out test purchasing by the most effective and realistic means as they saw fit. He stressed that the code was for guidance only and said that the code was currently under review to reflect real situations.
Last year, The Grocer
flagged up the issue of entrapment in a report about how independent Shamus Lehal narrowly avoided court. He complained about Trading Standards using older-looking teenagers in a ‘sting’.
Meanwhile, the multiples, c-stores and off-licences are attempting to reduce test purchasing failures to zero. The recently formed Retail Alcohol Standards Group has launched new Challenge 21 signage now being rolled out across the UK.
RASG was formed after supermarket chiefs met Home Secretary Charles Clarke to tackle the problem. Trade bodies including the ACS and the WSTA, and off-licence chains such as Thresher and Bargain Booze, have now signed up.
Separately, the Scottish Executive may reverse the shock decision to cut off-licence hours while giving pubs the option of 24-hour licensing. It is carrying out research to discover the links between the off-trade and antisocial behaviour.
Scottish Retail Consortium director Fiona Moriarty warned the trade to get their houses in order as the evidence gathered would determine whether trading hours would be restored before the Licensing (Scotland) Act comes into force in 2009.