Alcopops sale led to death

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The Independent Online
A pub landlord and his wife have been fined more than pounds 7,000 and lost their licence after selling alcopops to a 14-year-old boy who died under a train.

There were fresh calls yesterday for more control over the sale of the growing range of alcoholic "soft" drinks after a court heard that Graham Bailey had been served with Hooch just before he died.

Graham, of Ormskirk, Lancashire, had been attending a friend's 15th birthday party last November when he was among a group of teenagers asked to leave the Swan Hotel in Scarisbrick after becoming rowdy.

He was crossing the nearby railway line at an unmanned crossing when barriers came down. Another teenager got out of the way of the train but Graham was struck. He was said to have a blood alcohol reading of 220mg - almost three times the drink-drive limit. Magistrates in Ormskirk were told yesterday that the youths had been supplied with Hooch, an alcoholic lemonade, lager and spirits.

Licensee Edward Moorcroft, 48, and his wife, Jeanette, 52, pleaded guilty to a total of 18 offences of serving alcohol to underage teenagers and allowing children under 14 in a bar.

Mr Moorcroft was fined pounds 6,410 and his wife pounds 1,410. Magistrates described what had happened as a flagrant abuse of the licensing laws. Later Alcohol Concern made fresh calls for controls on alcopops.

Spokesman Lee Lixenberg said: "There needs to be a tightening up at the point of sale. But the bigger issue is the way these drinks are being marketed in a way that appeals to under-age drinkers. We want a much tougher regulatory system for the drinks trade to abide by, which has the full weight of the law."

Those at the party were aged between 13 and 19. Police said the parents of some of them committed offences by buying drinks for children and had been officially cautioned. Graham's parents were not at the party.

The officer in charge of licensing for South Lancashire, Sergeant Geoff Sumner, said the sentences sent out a clear message over under-age drinking. "The sales of alcopops should be more controlled," he said. "I don't see how anyone can say they are targeted at anyone other than those under 18. The message from this incident is over the part parents should be playing. They should be more aware of what children are drinking and where they are obtaining it."

Alan Turner, defending the landlord and his wife, told magistrates yesterday that they were "shattered" by events. They had now lost their home, livelihood and savings.

Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, has already threatened to consider a ban on alcopops. And the Prime Minister yesterday confirmed the Government's commitment to clamping down on their sale.

After being pressed on what action the Government would take to discourage under-age drinking, Tony Blair told the Commons at question time that it was "very important that we work with the manufacturers and others to deal with it". He said a working party had been set up to look into the matter after alcoholic ice pops were found on sale in shops.