Undercover Children Catch 31 Premises Selling Alcohol

More than 30 licensed premises have been reported for selling alcohol to under-age customers in the first month of a pioneering police project using “undercover” children. Supermarkets, pubs and corner shops were among those caught in the operation in Fife, the first of its kind in Scotland. The operation is likely to be introduced throughout the country next year following the year-long project. It is part of a joint initiative by police and the Scottish Executive to stop children buying alcohol.

They hope clamping down on sales will lead to a reduction in disorderly behaviour by under-age drinkers. Under the Fife scheme, teenagers, who are paid £5 an hour by police, go round licensed premises with plain-clothes policemen trying to buy alcohol. Anyone who sells it to them faces prosecution.

It had previously been illegal to use such a tactic but a special amendment to section 105 of the Licensing Scotland Act 2005 was introduced in Fife to allow the operation.

Chief Inspector Alex Duncan, project co-ordinator, said: “Thirty-one premises out of 200 already tested have sold alcohol to youths and it is disappointing we have seen so many failures.

“We had been completely proactive in ensuring all licensees knew we would be carrying out these tests. They were well briefed we would be checking their premises accompanied by under-agers to see if they would sell alcohol to them, but still many failed.

“We have 1000 licensed premises in Fife we want to get round. It is important the message gets across to shop owners, supermarket workers and pub owners – which is that if they can’t tell their ages, don’t sell them alcohol.”

Chief Superintendent Andrew Laing, divisional commander of Central Division, said: “This project is more about youth disorder. Every part of Scotland suffers from youths getting their hands on drink, losing their sense of judgment and causing bother in their community. We are trying to stem the flow of alcohol to kids and the way we are doing that is trying to get licencees to act responsibly.”

Mr Laing said there were checks in place to ensure the safety of the children who went undercover. “The kids who take part in the project volunteer from schools and community groups and one of the things we are testing in the pilot project is just how safe it is.

“We interview their parents to make sure they are comfortable with their children taking part and they are always accompanied by a police officer and are debriefed afterwards. We have everything in place to ensure the people who we use will not be identified.”

One 16-year-old used in the operation said he had been surprised to be offered two bottles of beer in a Fife pub. “I do look under-age and went in and asked for two bottles of Bud. The barman said he didn’t have any but offered me Miller instead. I was really surprised he served me and didn’t ask for ID or even ask my age.”

John Barclay, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said his organisation was fully behind the project. He did not feel there could be any accusations of entrapment because his members were always told to ask for identification of anybody who looked under-age.