I wrote a posting yesterday about under-age drinking (Under age alcohol sales – an uphill struggle) following the Kent and Sussex Courier’s front page coverage of Oliver Rawlinson’s sortie into various retailers in an attempt to highlight those who didn’t check his age.
I received a comment from Toby at The Bitter End, one of the retailers involved who suggested I read the various comments made in response to the Courier’s online article. One or two of the comments relate to a discrepancy in the reporting of Oliver’s age – reported as 17 in the Courier and 19 in The Daily Telegraph – whilst other comments centred around the fact that Oliver didn’t actually buy anything, as in physically handing over money and walking from the shop with alcohol.
Trial purchasing is something which Kent Trading Standards undertake fairly frequently. But it’s complex to set up – you need an underage young person prepared to take part, often on a school night; you need an officer from Trading Standards, and I understood in the past that a police officer needed to be nearby too. I had assumed that the Courier had simply reported on a formal trial purchase exercise, although it appears from the comments on their website that this might not have been the case. Clearly the Courier are not qualified to undertake this work, so one would hope their research was undertaken in a legal manner.
But the issue still remains that underage young people are buying alcohol in Tunbridge Wells, whether by sending in the oldest-looking in their group, or – even worse – by giving their cash to an adult to buy on their behalf. We had a real issue in Pembury a year or two ago, with young people walking around the village with their carrier bags full of bottles and cans. The empties, together with the all-important tell-tale bags strewn around the primary school field, led us to instigate a trial purchase initiative at the suspected outlets. But the most Trading Standards were able to do in that case was to caution those responsible.
So whether the Courier were right or wrong, whether the operation was conducted legally or not, whether Oliver was 17 or 19 years old for me is not the issue. I was in the Kent and Sussex Hospital not long ago on a Friday evening, where at eight o’clock staff called (and not for the first time) the parents of a fourteen year old boy who was almost comatose from drinking in the town centre to come and collect him.
There’s a very real problem, and we need to resolve it rather than pick over the rights and wrongs of a local news story.