Leader: ‘Stores breaking law should be punished’

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Underage drinking remains one of the biggest concerns of communities across the Lothians despite repeated efforts to crack down on the problem.

Parents of young teenagers especially worry about their children getting involved and neighbourhoods suffer sleepless nights and worse from the antisocial behaviour that goes hand-in-hand with youths drinking on street corners.

So it is astonishing that when one of our best-known high street stores is caught red-handed breaking the law by selling alcohol to an under-18 it gets away with it scot-free.

For that is exactly what has happened to Tesco after a 16-year-old “test purchaser” walked into its Dalkeith store and bought two bottles of beer. With teenage drinking a problem on the streets around the supermarket, the local licensing board quite rightly threw the book at Tesco – only to see its 48-hour ban on the store selling booze overturned in court. To add insult to injury, the sheriff ordered the board to pay Tesco’s legal bill.

The board appears to have fallen foul of a technicality by citing the protection of “children” as the reason for its ban. Legally, apparently, a 16-year-old is a “young person”. Such fine distinctions in a case like this simply makes the law an ass.

The big supermarkets are quick to trumpet the training they give their staff and systems they put in place to prevent the sale of alcohol to under-18s. That is all well and good, but when they break the law they should be punished.

What would happen if a motorist caught speeding tried to escape a fine by pointing to years of trouble-free driving? They would, quite rightly, still be fined.

What happens the next time that a big supermarket is caught out? Will the licensing board hesitate to punish them for fear of being landed with legal costs should their ban be overturned?

This decision smacks of the person with the most expensive lawyer winning rather than the one with right on their side and the best interests of the local community at heart. It does not seem like justice.