Retailers at a seminar on underage sales reacted angrily after a Trading Standards officer said they “shouldn’t run a business if they couldn’t handle the responsibility”

Lambeth community protection officer Bernard Conmy made the comment when talking about the sale of age-restricted items in a room made up of Trading Standards representatives, police and retailers at the first No ID No Sale seminar in London last week.

At a time when tension between the two groups is running high over the methods used for test purchasing, retailers attending the event were quick to condemn Conmy’s statement.

Pat Grey, who runs the Chocolate Box Store in Normanton, West Yorkshire, commented: “My staff and I put a lot of hard work into making sure we don’t sell to anyone underage but that comment is amazing. I thought it wasn’t meant to be them versus us but that’s what it sounds like. If this is a typical Trading Standards attitude then I am worried. We need their support, not this.”

Lesley Brown, who runs Frank Marsh Stores in Barnstaple, Devon, thought Conmy showed complete ignorance of the pressures put on retailers when it comes to selling age-restricted products.

She said: “I felt like booing when he made that comment. He should spend some time behind a store counter to see how difficult it is to tell a person’s age in a split second. I would like to think we can work with Trading Standards to help eliminate underage sales, but with that attitude you have to wonder how we can.”

During the No ID No Sale seminar both Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Policing, Security and Community Safety Paul Goggins MP, and Wine and Spirits Trade Association and the Retail Alcohol Standards Group’s (RASG) Jeremy Beadles called for all groups involved to work more closely together.

Beadles said: “We need to work towards a common aim of eliminating underage sales by the end of 2006. The RASG is keen to develop more links between retailers, Trading Standards, police and local authorities to help this process.”

Beadles also called on Trading Standards to highlight not only test purchase failures but positive results, and to notify store staff who were doing a good job to give them confidence to keep asking for ID.

Most speakers at the seminar expressed the need for a national ID card scheme. However, since the House of Lords voted to block the scheme until its full costs are known, its launch date is unknown.