The owner of a family run business, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, has said he was “devastated” after learning of alcohol sales to children.
Henry Byham, a director of H Byham & Son, which operates the Dairy Store Spar shop in Broom Street, Great Cornard, was cleared at Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court of selling alcohol to a person aged under 18. He denied the charge.
The 48-year-old also represented the company – registered in Ballingdon Street in Sudbury – which was being prosecuted for the same charge.
The court heard that during a Suffolk Trading Standards test purchase operation on December 19 last year, two boys aged 15 and 16 went in the Spar shop to try to buy alcohol.
One was sold a can of cider and the other bought two bottles of beer.
Prosecuting, David Povall said student Victoria Amselme, who was working in the shop at the time, admitted selling the alcohol and accepted a fixed penalty notice.
“Trading standards were concerned by this incident of bad practice which indicated a lack of appropriate procedures for the sale of alcohol,” Mr Povall said.
The business, which also operates The Patisserie in Long Melford and runs a milk delivery service, was asked to hand over a list of when staff had been trained in the sale of alcohol and a refusals register.
Mr Povall said documents showed Miss Amselme, who worked during university holidays, had last been trained in January, 2012, although other staff were subject to quarterly refreshers.
“There is no dispute an offence was committed, the issue is whether this is an isolated incident,” he said.
“Was there a rigorous culture of challenging people who may be under age?
“The Crown suggests there was a slackness in due diligence and training to prevent these offences.”
Mr Povall added that record keeping was unclear.#
He said staff who left and then returned were not retrained and the business had encountered “previous problems” with under age alcohol sales – at The Patisserie in August, 2011 , and at the Great Cornard shop in December, 2011.
Defending, Charlyne Sumnall said despite training not being recorded, it did take place, and staff regularly challenged customers on age restricted products.
She said the shop employed a ‘Challenge 25’ policy, and used till prompts and signs.
Mr Byham, who runs the firm with his brother Nigel and parents Peter and Janet, said staff followed a Spar training programme and were tested on a list of refresher points.
He said that as some employees were students, and were away during term time, he would often verbally remind them of their responsibilities where the sale of alcohol was concerned.
“I am devastated about this,” Mr Byham said. “We have been in shops a long time and have a moral responsibility.”
He added that on average 8,000 transactions went through the till each week, of which 1,400 were age-related, and customers were challenged.
“I had verbally refreshed Vicky and for her to miss-sell like that was totally out of character,” Mr Byham said.
Magistrates returned the not-guilty verdict after a 20-minute deliberation.