Shop owner is fined after underage cigarette sale

A STRUGGLING village newsagent has been slapped with a hefty fine after being caught selling cigarettes to a child.

Director of Helen’s Village News in Congresbury, Helen Cocking, this week admitted the offence which was committed in November last year.

The married shop owner, who opened the newsagents 10 years ago, had already been warned by North Somerset Council back in 2009 after the shop sold cigarettes to a minor.

Cocking appeared at North Somerset Courthouse in St Georges last week and admitted selling tobacco to a person under the age of 18, but said she thought he was old enough.

Cocking was rumbled after North Somerset Council’s Trading Standards department sent in an underage volunteer to the Brinsea Road shop to conduct the ‘test purchase’.

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Prosecuting on behalf of the unitary authority, Richard O’Sullivan said: “The company is before court today after a volunteer, aged 16, entered the shop with a member of Trading Standards following shortly after. After selecting a soft drink and asking for a pack of tobacco, the sales assistant did not ask him for ID.”

The legal minimum age at which tobacco can be bought in England, Scotland and Wales went up from age 16 to 18 in 2007.

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Cocking, who was given a CD-Rom with staff training tips about asking for ID after the 2009 incident, had also signed an action plan and was told to show the CD to all her staff.

She admitted that only she and her husband had watched it - but said they had told staff about its content.

She said: “We keep a refusals book but it is left to individual members of staff to decide if they think someone is old enough.

“We don’t have a problem with this sort of thing as we know the majority of our customers.”

Cocking, who employs two part-time workers, said the shop had been trading at a loss over the past three years, particularly since Christmas, and they had to take out a hefty loan to help the business.

The company was ordered to pay combined fine and court costs of �1,515 and it was suggested it revisit the action plan that was signed in 2009.

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