A Tesco store in Dalkeith was handed a 48-hour licence suspension last July after failing a test purchase operation. A 16 and a half year old was sold alcohol by a member of staff without being asked to produce ID.
The failure led police to ask the Midlothian board to review the premises licence, and after a hearing on December 15 (the ground being the “protecting children from harm” licensing objective) the licence was suspended for 48 hours – coinciding with a key trading week before Christmas.
But at a subsequent appeal to the Court of Session, sheriff principal Mhairi Stephen criticised the board’s decision on a range of fronts.
In particular, she said the board had been wrong to expect Tesco’s systems to be “foolproof” and for not taking “inexplicable human error” into account.
Stressing that the aim of the 2005 licensing Act was not to be punitive, she said the Act does not require suspension if alcohol is sold to a person under age or a test purchaser, and that a warning would have sufficed for the board to have met its aims in this instance.
“I think boards will be a lot more careful when granting a suspension of a licence [in future], because this was obviously only a first failure,” said solicitor Naomi Pryde of Tods Murray.
“Usually you would expect at least one more test purchase to have taken place.
“The police referred it straight for review, and the board saw fit to grant the suspension of the licence, which to me does seem particularly punitive – especially as it was with immediate effect and the week before Christmas.”
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