Concern over under-age drink sales

POLICE and trading standards officers have condemned the actions of some shopkeepers as “not good enough” after half the premises targeted in an undercover sting readily sold alcohol to a 15-year-old boy.

By Sharon Asplin

POLICE and trading standards officers have condemned the actions of some shopkeepers as “not good enough” after half the premises targeted in an undercover sting readily sold alcohol to a 15-year-old boy.

The shocking findings in Colchester come on a weekend devoted to stamping out youth-crime and anti-social behaviour and just days after a Government campaign revealed more retailers in the east of England are selling alcohol to under-age youngsters than anywhere else in the country.

The alcohol purchase “sting” was carried out in the town centre and Harbour and Stanway wards on Saturday.

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Officers from Colchester police and Essex Trading Standards visited 10 premises, with five failing the test.

Investigations are continuing but, so far, officials have issued four £80 fixed penalty notices and will be interviewing one shopkeeper. Two of the premises had failed a previous sting.

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Steve Lynch, strategic manager for Essex Trading Standards, said: “The results of the Colchester visits were disappointing.

“It may have just been a bad night but we may have to look at whether we need to target more resources into Colchester. A 50% failure rate is not good enough.

“There are the obvious issues if youths get hold of alcohol as when they have had too much to drink they could carry out a crime or run into other problems. There are also child protection issues as well as anti-social behaviour ones.”

Mr Lynch stressed trading standards officers were keen to work with licence holders to support them in the often daunting task of refusing to serve large groups of boisterous teenagers. However, persistent offenders could have their licences revoked.

Pc Lucy Keightley, of the Colchester town neighbourhood policing team, added: “It was a bit disappointing.

“Alcohol nuisance impacts on everyone in the neighbourhood and we will continue to work with trading standards to prevent the unlawful purchase of alcohol.

“It is down to people selling alcohol to act responsibly and they will be dealt with in an appropriate manner.

“It is all part of protecting young people and protecting the public through alcohol-related incidents, like criminal damage.”

Results of a Home Office alcohol misuse enforcement campaign, released on Wednesday, are already making grim reading for officials.

The initiative, run in the build up to this year's football World Cup, found of those tested in East Anglia 28% of off-licences and 39% of on-licences (pubs, bars and clubs) failed purchase “stings” - the highest rates in the country.

The Colchester “sting” was just one thrust of the new Youth Spotlight initiative begun in Colchester and Tendring this weekend.

The two-week operation to build bridges with youths will feature a host of high-profile drives including rounding up troublemakers and dispensing swift justice, reducing young victims of crime, identifying young people at risk of involvement in crime, fun youth activities and increased patrols around local hotspots for trouble.

The initiative aims to improve communication between young people and the police and the weekend kicked off with an enforcement focus on young troublemakers. Police invited youngsters they needed to arrest and their parents to Colchester police station on Saturday where the youth offending team was able to give both parents and youngsters direction and conclude problems quickly.

Inspector Ian Coleman, of Colchester police, said: “They are left in no doubt we are targeting youth issues but we are not only here to prosecute them but to give them support as well.

“Enforcement is the last strand of what we are doing but we have got to identify these people as quickly as possible as what they are doing affects everybody. A lot of young people can become victims of crime so we are also concerned about their personal safety - we are not just using a big stick.”

Five youngsters aged between 14 and 16, wanted in connection with theft and assaults and including two in custody, were dealt with in this way. A similar initiative was repeated in Clacton yesterday.

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