A MERTHYR Tydfil shop has had to pay more than £640 in fines and costs for selling cigarettes to someone under age.
Changes have been made to the licence of M Brown at 1 Cross Street (known locally as The Corner Shop) after it was found to have sold cigarettes to a 15-year-old.
On November 1, 2022 a packet of 20 Players JPS cigarettes were sold to a 15-year-old male test purchaser at the Aberfan store after trading standards conducted a test purchase of cigarettes.
Following on from this on the 14 May 2023 Malcolm Brown pleaded guilty to the offence under the Children & Young Persons Act 1933 Section 7(1) at Merthyr Tydfil Magistrates’ Courts and was fined £273, ordered to pay costs of £260 and a £109 victim surcharge.
The conditions added to the licence by the licensing committee on Thursday, October 26 following the trading standards application to review it included challenge 25 signs and ID checks, the keeping of a refusals register and training and refresher training for underage sales.
The trading standards department said: “It is not envisaged these conditions would be considered onerous, costly or unreasonable for the premises licence holder to implement and proportionate to the sale of cigarettes to a 15 year old test purchaser and would help reduce the likelihood of future under-age sales taking place at this premises.”
An assessment of the premises licence after the sale of the nicotine vape pod, found that this licence only has the mandatory conditions on the licence, and no controls relating to under-age sales.
It is believed by trading standards that this premises does not have sufficient procedures in place to protect children from the harm of obtaining age restricted good, the report said.
It added that Malcolm Brown said that staff received “on the job” training but that staff may have slipped into bad habits after he had taken a step back due to ill health.
There were signs for customers telling them those under 21 will be asked for ID, the till system has a prompt for challenge 25.
Refusals were not being monitored at the premises with the refusals book having gone missing during Covid.
Since the sale took place Malcolm Brown has made changes to practices including introducing a refusals book, signs for staff on the till as a reminder and has retrained the staff member who made the sale.
Both the children’s services department at the council and the licensing department said they fully supported the application to review the licence and South Wales Police said they feel that the conditions requested by trading standards are robust, proportionate and necessary.
In his submission to the committee, Malcolm Brown said: “I have co-operated with the council throughout this investigation and provided all evidence and information that has been requested from me. I pleaded guilty to the offence and paid a fine of £650.
“As far as I aware that matter had now been resolved. I provided significant evidence demonstrating the training that my staff receive, the processes I have place to ensure these instances do not happen and further steps I have put in place to raise awareness of the sale of restricted items to under-age individuals.”
He said he strongly disagrees with trading standards that he does not have sufficient and robust procedures in place.
He gave evidence of the procedures he has in place such as a test purchase certificate from Camelot, pass for refusing the sale of a lottery scratch card to an under-age individual, a till prompt which asks for proof of age on the sale of any restricted product, when training is completed with staff the till prompt is covered and demonstrated and staff are fully aware of this process with refresher training provided every quarter, there’s a copy of a refusal log, there are character letters from regular customers confirming the above processes are adhered to and they have not witnessed a sale to an under-age individual and there are signs around the premises warning of the sale of restricted items to under-age individuals which are visible to customers and staff.
Mr Brown said: “I would also like to raise that I have been the owner of this business for close to 18 years and this is the first and only instance such an offence has taken place.
“I can confirm that there has never been a time where the police have had to attend my premises, or any complaints raised by customers.”
He said he understands that process and procedures need to be followed but that he has complied throughout the investigation, admitted liability on behalf of my staff member that committed the offence but that he feels he and his business continue to be victimised.
He added: “I also believe that the offence test was not completed fairly and correctly. The use of the 15-year-old boy who was almost 6ft tall and could easily pass for an individual of 18 was entrapment. I have shown the images to several individuals who also agree with this.”
He also attached two letters of support from customers and one said it seemed to be a genuine mistake and they don’t see the shop as unsafe for children.
The other letter said they have seen customers asked for ID and refused if they can’t produce it adding they’ve never seen anyone under age served or any trouble or police present at the shop.
But Amy Cordingley from trading standards told the committee that when they use the volunteer test purchasers they select and use people who do look representative of their age group as the purpose is to do a true test to make sure shops are checking correctly for ID.
She said the purpose isn’t to catch businesses out, it’s just a test to find out if they have the correct procedures and processes in place.
She also said that during interview Mr Brown had said the CCTV shows that that the staff member was gossiping and didn’t even look at the boy when she made the sale so she wouldn’t have seen what he looked like while Mr Brown said he would not have sold him anything and he would have asked for ID.
She added that the purpose of the review is not to punish Mr Brown but to protect children from harm to ensure that the processes that they’ve recommended and he says he is now doing anyway continue in the future.
She said it’s to protect businesses because they can then demonstrate due diligence and that when they do investigations after a sale not everyone ends up in court.