From time to time I get dragged to things I have little interest in. Recently the lovely squeeze dragged me to what is known as a “neighbourhood watch” meeting. I’ve been to these things before and usually they are pretty tedious. I got a free fridge magnet, pen & window sticker at one of them though. There is no opportunity to drink cooking lager or watch telly and you tend to have to talk to your neighbours. Or stare at the wall whilst the squeeze talks to them. Not this one but one meeting I went to was in a local school and you had to sit on the really small chairs designed for kids. The only thing on the wall to stare at was pictures the kids had drawn. Not one of them had any semblance of artistic talent. I'd have burnt them rather than put them on the wall, but then I suspect I'm not cut out to be a teacher. I would not describe the area I live in as rough, in fact I think it’s quite nice and hasn’t any more problems than I imagine most places have. There are certainly no needles in the park, muggings or rapes. At least none that I have heard of. If you had one word to describe where I live it would be “boring”. But I like boring. The house and car insurance is cheaper than “interesting”. At this meeting was a local copper and his plastic policeman underling and the format was a short presentation about what they are doing in the area followed by a series of moans from neighbours about local kids. Apparently some local kids have been drinking cans of lager. Now I am not going to condone or make light of their concerns. Underage drinking is against the law, drunk kids misbehave and cause property and car damage and if it is your car then you are going to be pissed off about it.
One lady mentioned she had been intimidated by local kids outside a local off licence. The kids had asked her to buy some booze for them. She declined and they swore at her. As she should have done. I would have declined, but had they swore at me I’d have swung for them. The police answer to this was a surprising one. They mentioned they use sting operations across the town regarding off licences, sending kids into the shop to buy things they ought not to be able to. Now you may think this is unfair and just not cricket but in one sense I do see the problem the police have. Paul Bailey’s beer blog has a perspective on this here.
If a shop is breaking the law then that shop ought to face the legal consequences of their actions. In order for that to occur, evidence is required. How do you get evidence that a shop is breaking the law? Is a signed statement from a drunken child that they bought 4 Stella’s from Mr Ahmed’s offie enough to stand up in court? Is a witness statement from a disgruntled customer of Mr Ahmed that he saw him sell some blue wkd’s to some 13 year old girls enough evidence? Being caught red handed selling booze to kids is evidence, I’d say. I appreciate it can be difficult to work out someone’s age, but that’s where asking for ID comes in. You can ask for ID in a polite manner, it needn’t cause offence to a customer. Booze is a restricted substance that requires a licence to sell and laws and regulations exist regarding its sale. I had no issue with the concept of a sting, go for it coppers and weed out those retailers breaking the law whether pub, off licence or supermarket.
The issue I had was one of applying an effective solution to a known problem. Accepting the neighbour’s story as true and seeing no reason to disbelieve it, the problem was not that Mr Ahmed’s offie was selling booze to kids. On the contrary, a problem existed because Mr Ahmed’s offie would not sell booze to kids. The kids had presumably tried to buy booze and failed and decided to loiter around in either hope or expectation of acquiring booze by fair means or foul. A sting operation would not help in this instance. There was no suspicion Mr Ahmeds offie was breaking the law and attempting a sting would likely yield a negative result.
The actual solution was not to sting Mr Ahmed’s offie, but to help and assist him and his establishment. If Mr Ahmeds phones the police and reports kids loitering around his shop after unsuccessfully trying to buy booze then the police need to turn up and have a word with the kids. Loitering may not be breaking any laws, but intimidating people is against the law and at the very least the kids can be moved on. This requires the police to respond to a phone call in a timely manner and act on it. It isn’t a task they can do at their own convenience. But then I suspect no crime occurs at a convenient time you can plan for. As you would expect from a contrarian like me I told the local bobby this, explaining the flaw in his approach and suggesting the solution I had arrived at. I did not suggest it was the only solution but did point out that it was a solution and the coppers original plan wasn't. Suffice to say he didn’t appreciate it, but he didn't ask for the fridge magnet back. I think Mr Ahmed is in for a sting. I’d tell him but I rarely use his shop, so won’t get the opportunity. Tesco’s is cheaper you see.