Fewer outlets selling alcohol to youngsters

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LONDON, Oct 11 (Reuters) The government today said its crackdown on underage drinking was having an effect as fewer bars and off-licences were selling alcohol to youngsters.

Children were successful in buying alcohol in only about 15 per cent of their 9,000 attempts, according to undercover tests.

This was a reduction on last year's figure of 20 percent and an improvement on the initial year's test in 2004 when 50 percent of pubs and off-licences were found to be failing.

More than 20 of the 2,683 premises targeted by police and trading standards officers during the 10-week drive -- called the Tackling Underage Sales of Alcohol Campaign (TUCAS) -- sold alcohol to under-18s on three separate occasions.

More than 220 did so twice and 1,064 once.

The government put the improved percentage down to strict penalties, tough enforcement and positive efforts by the drinks industry.

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said it was clear the policy was becoming established as standard practice across the industry.

But he added: ''I am under no illusions that we need to continue to restrict the availability of alcohol to the under-18s and challenge the behaviour of people whose drinking causes damage to themselves and those around them.'' As part of the continued crackdown, 21 police forces will mount operations during the October half-term holidays to confiscate alcohol from youths drinking on the streets.

Officers will also use new powers to disperse the groups if there is a risk of alcohol-related crime and disorder.

Premises which were found to have sold to under-18s during the TUCAS operation, which ran from May to July, will face possible penalties including a 10,000-pound fine, a ban on selling alcohol for three months and a review of their licence.

They had been targeted because they were known to be problematic.

Previous tests had been random.

REUTERS AE PM1733

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