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23 February, 2007

Test purchasing is persecution

Yet again we hear of a failed test purchase in your letters page ( Dec 8) . A Thresher outlet has also been caught out in a test purchase recently . All I can say is that it's about time we started to fight back at this persecution and pointed out that there are TWO sides to the battle for antisocial/underage drinking problems.

The points I am making are:

1. The constant test purchasing should be challenged as victimisation of our trade. I do understand its importance but it is designed to entrap us and not to help us. Do driving instructors get fined every time a pupil does something wrong? Or even the examiner who sits on a test waiting for students to break the laws of the road then fail them on their test . Do they report infringements of the law such as speeding so the wrongdoer can be chastised by the court?

2. For test purchasing to be fair the authorities should put small groups of supervised under-age people on street corners to try to get adults to buy for them , then prosecute these law breakers . I believe that as a DPS I am accountable to a degree if this happens near my shop.

3. Why can't we have a police /Trading Standards officer pose as a sales assistant in our shops and charge people who are under-age for trying to get served? Not just the slap on the wrist £80 fine (on the rare occasion they catch someone) but a full prosecution with criminal conviction and publicity as we are threatened with.

4.

If we were supported by the authorities it would make our jobs easier and reduce the problem we all face . The public would understand and support us more with the problems their own children cause us.

I have heard too many stories about how we "let their children get drinks" (we don't pay for it but the little darlings get the money from somewhere) or how a mother did not want to embarrass her son by dragging the 15-year-old away from his drinking buddies but thought it was OK to accost the manager of the local

off -licence as if it was her fault, even though the drinks were bought elsewhere.

A 13-year-old girl offer ed to lift her top up if one of my customers would get her cigarettes. If these people faced name-and-shame prosecution along with a criminal record and fine, I am sure we as a responsible industry could work with the authorities to achieve better results than test purchasing will ever manage on its own.

I have reported two people for supplying to minors with no resulting action taken against them. I am also due in court to testify against the last drunken "chav" who stole from my shop and assaulted me when I tried to regain the property . I also have to suffer the veiled threats and intimidation from his mates.

I am very interested in other people's views on this. I would urge the heads of our industry to at least look into the possible victimisation I believe we are suffering so as to address the real problem and get the trade the support it needs .

Tony Rice

Threshers manager

(name freely supplied)

Holter on the loose

Give new drinks retailers a chance or risk choice being taken away

Q uite a few councillors believe there are too many off-licences these days. Funnily enough, lots of off-licence owners agree with them. It's bad enough having to compete with Tesco and Sainsbury's without the local florist and garden centre muscling in on your territory too.

In Brighton, where councillors are particularly worked up about this issue, there's even a tile shop that makes a speciality of booze. Many a church was built with mortar mixed with beer; perhaps it works for grout too.

In the past, the authorities were able to object to a new licence on the basis there was "no need" for another drinks shop in the area. It was a hugely controversial and despised element of legislation, and one which assumed that magistrates and councillors were better placed to make this decision than market forces.

It's possible that the small but growing campaign to persuade the government to return to the "need" criterion will win some supporters in the trade itself, among people who already hold licences. This reinforces the notion that there is something inherently problematic about alcohol and makes an unproven connection between availability and abuse.

There's no doubt that some retailers who have been granted licences in recent years aren't quite as diligent as they ought to be. But is it fair to assume they will be a blight on the area before they even start trading? These are often the shops targeted more than most by test purchasing, and whose stay in the licensed community may prove to be a short one if they really are found to be breaking the rules.

Dodgy dealings must stop

Almost everyone in the licensed trade can name a shop or wholesaler nearby which has prices that defy all logic. Everyone knows that some supermarkets offer drinks for less than the trade price, but we're talking about deals that don't even cover the cost of duty and VAT. That's because some people in our trade don't actually contribute to the Exchequer.

We understand that retailers disguise their dodgy deals by sourcing a proportion of their stock from a legitimate wholesaler. That still enables them to offer market-beating deals on individual brands, but when Revenue & Customs come a-knocking they can produce some bona fide paperwork that suggests that all the stock is legitimate.

Not that the Revenue men are particularly visible these days. Their reluctance to get involved with duty evasion cases means there are big chunks of the country where the black market is seriously disrupting drinks retailing.

If you're in an area where this is going on, you should make sure Revenue & Customs hear about it. You can also contact OLN, in confidence if you prefer, to discuss the effect duty evasion is having in your area.

This is a huge problem for the trade, and it's been swept under the carpet for too long.




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