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What to expect after a failed test purchase

My employee failed a test purchase operation carried out by the police and trading standards authority - what will happen now?

Q:  I run an independent pub and am both the Premises Licence Holder and the Designated Premises Supervisor.  Recently one of my staff sold alcohol to an underage person who was part of a test purchase operation by the local Police and Trading Standards Authority.  The employee was taken to one side and given a £90 fixed penalty notice and had her fingerprints and DNA taken.  At the time of the test purchase failure the Police did not ask to see me as the Designated Premises Supervisor or Premises Licence Holder and I wonder whether anything else will happen or is this issue finished?

A:  The Police Officers who were involved in the test purchase were most likely on a specific operation which also included Trading Standards.  Their remit would most likely be to assist Trading Standards with the process of the test purchase and upon failure to issue the fixed penalty notices immediately to those who had participated in the sale. 

The result of the test purchase operation will be discussed at some length both by the Police and Trading Standards, and in particular the Police Licensing Authority will be involved to determine whether further action should be taken against the premises as a result of the failure. 

It is quite possible that you in your capacity as DPS and/or Premises Licence Holder will receive a letter requesting that you attend a Police Station to be questioned under caution in respect of the failed test purchase.  The Police Licensing Authority will want to discover what type of training has been provided for your staff and whether the training is ongoing. 

They may also wish to see the age verification policy that you have adopted (as one of the mandatory conditions) and find out how it is implemented by the DPS to ensure that under 18 year olds cannot be sold alcohol. They will also probably wish to see your refusals log or register. 

In former times failed test purchases were sometimes considered to be something that could and would ‘happen’ in the licensed trade, however legislation brought into effect in 2007 created a further offence of ‘persistently’ selling alcohol to under 18s, namely two failures in 3 months.  This reflects the seriousness of the offence of selling alcohol to children and as well as the likelihood of a request for an interview under caution for the first failure you can expect a further test purchase operation will be attempted at the premises. A second failure in 3 months could result in a prosecution of you as the Premises Licence Holder or alternatively a ‘closure notice’ requiring you to stop selling alcohol for a period of up to 2 weeks. 

I hope this failed test purchase is a one-off, as the enforcing authorities (including licensing committees and Magistrates) view any patterns of such behaviour extremely seriously. I highly recommend that where an interview under caution is requested of you that you seek further legal advice and you will almost certainly want to have legal representation with you when you attend the Police Station.

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