Courts come down on side of retailer in test purchase case

21 March, 2008

Magistrates refuse to convict after seven stores were duped by 16



A Dorset retailer who sold beer to a 16-year-old test purchaser has escaped

conviction because magistrates ruled the teenager looked over 18.

Graham Northeast,

owner of Bonafide Wines in Christchurch,

sold a bottle of Budweiser to an under-age girl

in a test purchase

by Dorset County Council Trading Standards

at the end of last year.

Officers issued Northeast with an on-the-spot caution, which he refused to sign because he did not want it to go on his permanent record.

The case was heard at Bournemouth Magistrates' Court on Dec 14. Magistrates ruled

Northeast should not be

convicted because all seven shops

in the sting had

served the girl, believing her to be over 18.

Northeast said: " Even the magistrate had to agree the photo offered by Trading Standards did not portray the girl as she

looked on my CCTV. After the

photos were taken the girl added a suit jacket, scarf, big adult handbag and purse. My solicitor was not impressed and asked why photos were not taken after test purchases. No credible answer was given by Trading Standards.

"I had no complaints from the police, licensing or Trading Standards up to the time of incident. Bournemouth CID had used my external CCTV images on a number of occasions for unrelated incidents. So you can see I would consider myself to be a very responsible licensee

who cares greatly about my local area.

"I think Trading Standards have a lot to answer for. On the one hand what they do is necessary, but on the other I think there should be a very clear set of rules for both sides. Test purchasing in my mind is the single reason

I will sell up and leave this trade. A

soundly run store like mine cannot survive on a knife-edge situation ."

Ivan Hancock, divisional manager of Dorset County Council Trading Standards , said he would continue to use volunteers that were 16


old. "Mr Northeast didn't ask her age and he didn't ask for ID. He was prosecuted and he was able to establish a defence. Seven people sold to this person and that weighed heavily with magistrates."

Hancock added that the girl, who was 16

years and two months old

, was not chosen

because she looked over 18. "Officers had no reason to believe

the person looked older than she was."

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