One in four Northern Ireland teens sold alcohol without ID checks

Alcohol seized by police in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon areas in recent weeks
Brendan Hughes

RETAILERS in Northern Ireland were caught selling alcohol to one in four teenage mystery shoppers last year without asking for ID.

Of almost 300 test purchases carried out in pubs and off-sales venues, 72 per cent saw proof of age requested – a worse record than anywhere in Britain.

Supermarkets performed the best, passing 80 per cent of tests, and managed licensed premises the worst at 47 per cent.

Scotland had a pass rate of 87 per cent, England 81 per cent and Wales 78 per cent, according to the tests carried out by retail age check auditors Serve Legal.

Their tests involved 18 and 19-year-olds purchasing alcohol in pubs, bars, late-night venues, supermarkets and petrol stations.

While pass rates rose by two per cent last year compared to 2015, there were almost 100 fewer tests carried out.

Test-purchasing initiatives are widely used by authorities in the Republic and Britain, but in Northern Ireland a similar PSNI scheme has been shelved.

It was launched in 2012, but was suspended a few months later following concerns from youth organisations about the welfare of teenage volunteers, who were aged between 15 and 17.

In its few short months, three licensed premises were caught selling alcohol to minors.

Last year The Irish News revealed police were proposing to relaunch the scheme, but in December a PSNI report concluded that it should not be re-introduced.

In January The Irish News revealed police are confiscating bottles and cans of alcohol from children at a rate of one nearly every single hour.

Officers have seized alcohol from minors more than 7,500 times in the past five years – with nearly 37,000 bottles and cans confiscated.

Police recently posted pictures online of a huge haul drugs and alcohol seized in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon areas from teenagers, some aged as young as 13.

Ed Heaver, director of Serve Legal, questioned the lack of testing by authorities in Northern Ireland.

"Without testing, it is difficult to see how the authorities have an accurate picture of the extent of the problem of underage alcohol sales," he said.

Mr Heaver urged retailers and licensed premises in Northern Ireland to carry out more mystery-shopper checks.

"Retailers and operators of licensed premises in Northern Ireland have been extremely slow to adopt age-check testing for underage sales, with testing levels dwarfed by the rest of the UK," he said.

"Age-check testing should be an integral part of retail training and operational best practice."

The audit also revealed that in 50 test-purchases in 2016, knives were sold to 45 per cent of young mystery shoppers without age checks.

However, retailers showed improvements in tobacco sale age checks, with a 71 per cent pass rate last year compared to 60 per cent in 2015.

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