Co-op caught selling alcohol to underage girls in stings

Co-op in Warsash Road, Warsash
Co-op in Warsash Road, Warsash
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Teenage girls were served alcohol twice in seven weeks by staff at a convenience store, prompting a review of its licence.

Councillors on Fareham Borough Council’s licensing panel decided to impose three extra conditions on the licence of the Co-op in Warsash Road, Warsash at a meeting on Tuesday.

Representatives from the Co-op said the test purchaser on the second occasion was wearing make-up and looked older than her actual age of 16 as she was wearing ‘party’ clothes.

Trading Standards officer Stephen Lawford told the panel: ‘The female test purchaser was used for the first time.

‘She only had her 16th birthday the week before. This was the second test purchase in which she attempted to purchase alcohol.

‘She was not sold alcohol from any of the other premises she visited that day.

‘Two test purchase failures in seven weeks is unacceptable.’

The panel heard that the Co-op had served alcohol to two girls – aged 16 and 17 – in a test purchase run by Hampshire Constabulary at 10.20am on September 13.

After this failure, Hampshire County Council’s Trading Standards conducted a further test purchase with a girl aged 16 at 4.40pm on October 30, which the Co-op also failed.

Representing the Co-op, solicitor Richard Arnot argued that the firm had rigorous training and tests for staff, as well as signage and reminders on the tills.

He also said that Co-op had a system where the tills ask the assistant to enter an age before a sale of alcohol can be processed.

Mr Arnot said: ‘Sometimes people do not use the tools they are given to do their job properly.’

He said that one of the members of staff had been sacked and the other had been given a warning.

Licensing officer PC Jason Pearce said: ‘They failed twice. If the end result is two failures there must be an inadequacy. It is simple mathematics.’

PC Pearce said the Co-op was warned there would be another test purchase within three months following the first failure.

He said the Co-op operated a ‘challenge 25’ policy which was not implemented and said the assistant had frequently entered the age ‘47’ into the till when prompted for the person’s age, which the Co-op could have picked up on if they had been checking their systems.

He said: ‘These are systems that have been proved to fail, something needs to change at the Co-op.’

Mr Lawford said: ‘I believe that the store staff and management had clearly become complacent and they were failing to protect children from harm.’

Chairwoman of the licensing panel Pamela Bryant said: ‘It is something we take extremely seriously because youngsters can look older than their years.

‘It is very important to protect children and it is one of our licensing objectives to make sure they cannot buy alcohol.’

The licensing panel added three conditions to the Co-op’s licence meaning that a personal licence holder must be present during all alcohol trading times, that the ‘challenge 25’ policy is operated and that all staff must be trained every three months, which must be documented and kept for two years.