Shopkeeper renews call for law change as licensing police admit ‘clerical error’

George MacDonald, owner of 'Premier' shop in Rosetta Road in Peebles feels he is being wrongly accused of selling alcohol to under agers as one of his employees was caught out.
George MacDonald, owner of 'Premier' shop in Rosetta Road in Peebles feels he is being wrongly accused of selling alcohol to under agers as one of his employees was caught out.

A SHOPKEEPER seeking a change in drinks laws believes his case has been strengthened after it emerged the Scottish Borders Licensing Board was given inaccurate information before issuing him with a written warning last month.

George McDonald, who owns three Premier convenience stores in Hawick, Innerleithen and Peebles, was summoned to the July board meeting after the police sought a review of his premises licence because one of his employees sold alcohol to two 16-year-old boys in a test purchasing sting operation at his Wemyss Place outlet in April.

As reported in TheSouthern on August 4, Mr McDonald was unhappy with the board’s decision to give him a written warning because he had trained his staff to mandatory standards and beyond, and had installed electronic till systems which flashed when age-protected products, such as alcohol and tobacco, were scanned.

He stressed that all his staff were aware they faced instant dismissal for any breach of his zero-tolerance policy and confirmed he had sacked the transgressing employee, a female with more than 20 years’ service, on the spot.

“It seems I am the only one who is being punished ... I find myself in the dock with what amounts to a record for being negligent and irresponsible when nothing could be further from the truth,” he added, noting the board was told in the police report that although the employee was subsequently charged with the offence “the procurator fiscal has decided to take no action”.

The same police observation applied to a younger female assistant involved in another test purchasing failure at a Peebles delicatessen which resulted in a written warning for premises licence holder Kenneth Coltman.

Last week, however, TheSouthern was contacted by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to say it was incorrect to say the fiscal had taken no action in relation to the employees.

“Both cases were dealt with by the fiscal, by way of a direct measure,” said a spokesperson. Such measures, an alternative to court proceedings, include warnings to the accused and fiscal fines of up to £300.

After learning about the police report, the spokesperson responded: “We can confirm the procurator fiscal at Peebles received reports concerning two females, aged 54 and 23, in connection with incidents occurring in April.

“After full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the reports, the cases were dealt with by means of a direct measure and are now closed.

“COPFS was not involved in the submission to the licensing board ... the fiscal at Peebles will continue to assist local police and the licensing board to ensure safeguards are put in place to avoid such confusion in future.”

A police spokesperson said yesterday: “We acknowledge that a report sent to the Licensing Board in good faith on June 2, contained inaccurate information ... This was due to a clerical error and a new process has now been put in place to ensure this does not happen again.”

None of this, however, alters the board’s decision with regard to Mr McDonald.

Anne Isles, SBC’s legal and licensing services manager, told us: “That the position of the actions of other authorities were apparently not accurately narrated by the police is not, in my opinion, material in terms of the actual grounds of the referral – the failure of a test purchase in premises.”

Mr McDonald told us: “I’ll be passing all this information to my local MSP John Lamont.

“I want to lobby for the Licensing Scotland Act to be amended to give police some discretion in seeking reviews of premises licences – especially when the real culprits have already been punished.”