SUPERMARKET giant Asda has been hit with an alcohol sales ban at one of its main Scottish stores after selling drink to a 16-year-old.

The company's store in the affluent Glasgow suburb of Newton Mearns had its alcohol licence suspended for 24 hours from yesterday following the test purchase sting earlier this year.

Asda was the only business of around 20 tested in East Renfrewshire that failed the test purchase.

Although the sanction was only for 24 hours, East Renfrewshire Council said it was satisfied the financial impact and negative publicity would act as a deterrent.

By imposing the one-day ban immediately after Monday's meeting of the authority's licensing board, it also denied Asda any legal recourse to delay the suspension pending an appeal, potentially saving the taxpayer tens of thousands in legal fees.

However, the move again raised concerns over a lack of uniform sanctions across Scotland for breaches of licensing law, and compares with some smaller stores being hit with suspensions sometimes lasting months for one test purchase failure.

In 2010, in one of the toughest sanctions yet under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, Westfield Stores in Greenock, Inverclyde, was banned from selling alcohol for two months after letting an underage teenager buy wine.

Glasgow has handed down two-week bans to stores caught in test purchase operations and recently started imposing over-21 conditions on off-sales falling foul for a second time.

It also banned a Tesco superstore in the north of the city from using self-service check-outs for a month after a 16-year-old was allowed to buy cider.

However, in Renfrewshire recently several stores that failed first test purchases only received written warnings.

One senior trade source said: "Patterns are emerging as to how different licensing boards will deal with a single underage alcohol sale. In a landmark case in 2010, a sheriff principal ruled that a warning would normally be appropriate where there was a 'first offence' stemming from a 'casual error'.

"A number of boards have followed that line, but I've come across cases where suspensions have been handed out ranging from two days to two months."

A spokesman for the Scottish Grocers' Federation, which represents thousands of smaller retailers, said: "This case goes to prove that human error can occur regardless of store size, and that any failure in test purchasing is not a small store issue."

Before the test purchasing operation, trading standards officers and the police carried out "integrity tests" to see if the trade was complying with the new "challenge 25 rules" introduced last October and requiring anyone appearing under that age to be asked for identification.

An 18-year-old volunteer was sold alcohol and cigarettes by nearly half of retailers without being asked for identification.

Those that failed were re-visited for a formal test purchase using a 16-year-old volunteer. Asda was the only store to fail the test purchase after selling the girl a bottle of Strongbow cider.

An Asda spokeswoman said: "We're disappointed that our rigorous processes have failed this time – but rest assured that this isn't representative of the rest of our stores in Scotland."