Under-age sales stings see drinks shops face closure

Suspended licences mean lost revenue as council and police get tough

Drinks shops across England and Wales have been banned from selling alcohol in council and police crackdowns on under-age sales.

Shops such as Morgan's Off-licence in Blackburn, Lanc s, have been issued with three-month licence suspensions which could force them out of business.

Shop worker Lynsay Whittle said: "The council is making an example of us. We're a small business and we could end up after the three months not trading at all."

At the same licence review hearing, Blackburn with Darwen Council's licensing committee suspended the licences of the Awan Food Store for three months and The Grove pub in Church Street for a month, ruling that the pub's ­suspension should be shorter because its sole business was from alcohol.

Whittle said: "Fifty per cent of our trade is alcohol - it doesn't seem fair."

Welcome Stores in Swindon had its licence suspended for three months following three test purchase failures.

Owner Sue Ratoo said the suspension would probably cost the business around £15,000 but she had decided against an appeal as legal costs would be likely to match lost revenue.

The shop will sell fresh bread and fruit in an attempt to make up for lost alcohol sales.

OLN legal expert Peter Coulson labelled three-month bans as draconian, and "a death sentence for retailers".

"Suspensions should be an exemplary punishment and all penalties proportionate. Three months is virtually a closure of a premises - it doesn't endorse punitive sanctions," he said.

WSTA chief executive Jeremy Beadles said banning off-licences from selling alcohol for three months was a disproportionate punishment when an illegal sale is a genuine mistake.

Beadles said: "In no way does the WSTA support illegal sales of alcohol, but licence suspensions will inevitably damage businesses, and in some cases will lead to closures. This could potentially impact negatively on the local economy and could reduce consumer choice."

Six-week suspensions have been meted out to other off-licences, including Watts Off-licence in Waterfoot , Lanc s , and Wine Cellar in Wallasey, Wirral.