New government figures have revealed a huge imbalance in the number of cautions issued to drinks retailers accused of selling alcohol to children.
North west England accounted for almost half of all such cautions issued in 2006, while retailers in London, Wales and the East Midlands received no cautions at all.
Figures released by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport also point to some big variations in the average fines meted out to
prosecuted for serving under-18s. The national average in 2006 was £305 per offence, though this ranged from £213 in Yorkshire and Humberside to £443 in the neighbouring north east.
The numbers reflect the differing policies of forces around the UK
on enforcing the law on under-age sales.
Between 1997 and 2006,
284 cautions were issued to retailers in the north west and just one by the Metropolitan Police to store staff in the capital.
2006 across England and Wales, just eight youths were prosecuted for buying alcohol while under age and six found guilty, according to Home Office statistics.
Superintendent Adrian Studd, of the Met's clubs and vice division, said that police in London were vigilant about under-age sales. But he added: "We very rarely caution people because we either give a fixed penalty notice on the spot, or they get prosecuted or have their licence reviewed."
WSTA head of communications Gavin Partington criticised the focus on retailers rather than the children buying drinks.
He added: "There isn't a sufficiently rigorous approach on this in terms of police forces making sure they are using the laws that are there to take action against young people who possess alcohol.
"You get reports of police forces with programmes of increased enforcement - but the law needs to be enforced across the board all the time."
Cautions for selling alcohol to under-18s in 2006
North west 27
North east 8
Yorkshire & Humberside 7
South east 3
West Midlands 3
East Midlands 0