As the countdown to Christmas begins, the C-Store offices have been flooded with calls from retailers reporting inconsistent and inconsiderate test purchasing operations.

Mark Johnson of Celebrations Off-Licence in Stockport said he felt that police were consistently trying to catch him out by running test purchases at peak hours.

"I don't have a problem with test purchases, but in the past few weeks we have continually had them in between 6pm and 9pm on a Friday evening. Trading Standards officers also want to interview us when it's too busy to have a proper conversation," he said.

The situation seems to be particularly strict in the North of England, where retailers say they are being subjected to "witch hunts". In Lincolnshire retailers who fail test purchasing stings are being named and shamed in the local newspaper. The tactic is also being used in Bolton, reports David Bridge of Here To Please You stores. "Trading standards never tell us the results of a test purchase, but they publish the results in the paper. I also see officers on my CCTV checking young people's bags. It feels like they are trying to catch us out."

Retailers maintain that working in partnerships is the answer. Atul Karavadra, who owns a Londis Latestore in Northampton, said meetings with his local authority had improved relationships.

Industry body the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group works with police and trading standards through a series of Community Alcohol Projects, focused on tackling young drinkers instead of seeking prosecution of retailers. More than 20 projects are in operation.