STINGS on premises selling alcohol to under-18s are grinding to a halt over Scotland due to a shortage of teenagers deemed suitable for the role.

Police Scotland's new head of licensing said there were "huge challenges" in recruiting "approved children" to carry out so-called test purchasing operations and that some area have carried out none for several years as a result.

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Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams also said he would make police interactions with the licensed trade "more accurate and honest" and that every inspection of pubs, clubs and off-sales would be recorded onto a national database.

The former Edinburgh commander said the database, introduced two months ago and called Inn Keeper, was a major step forward in how the force keep abreast of the personalities and issues in the alcohol trade across Scotland.

At a conference in Glasgow of influential figures involved in the administration of liquor licensing, ACC Williams insisted Police Scotland was not target-driven in its relationship with the trade, adding that the approach would be about "doing the bright thing".

Questioned by one delegate on whether there was a national approach to test purchasing and told of major disparities in enforcement across the country, ACC Williams said: "It's about the availability of resources. We require approved children to put through the process and we'd a huge challenge getting kids in Edinburgh. For a number of years there were none.

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"We have a national procedure but not that many kids that you can deploy.

"There's only a small window (when you can use) for available children and there's difficulty in moving them across the country. The use of young people also has to be handled sensitively and proportionately."

As part of the rules governing test purchasing, those carrying out the stings must be 16 and 17, look their age and admit to it if asked to avoid allegations of entrapment.

ACC Williams' comments about the new database come on the back of sustained complaints from the licensed trade that the frequency of police visits is often used against them when complaints arise, even if no incidents are ever recorded.

The trade has also a long-standing issue that complaints to the police about incidents on their premises can later be used against them, even if, they argue, this is an example of good practice.

But ACC Williams said: "There are no targets. This is about doing things right.

"We've had a lot of criticisms about us visiting premises 60 times over a weekend and nothing happening. Then we make the licensing board aware if there's only one incident. This is about improving honesty and accuracy

"Inn Keeper isn't intelligence led but can help us make more informed and better decisions. All inspections, both positive and negative must be recorded. It's a huge step forward in the administering of licensing in Scotland."

ACC Williams was made the national force's head of licensing several months back and insisted that resources were continuing to be made available for licensing despite claims in recent years it was suffering a reduction of manpower and emphasis.

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He hit the headlines two years ago following a high profile difference of opinion with senior figures on Edinburgh's licensing board about the over-provision of licensed premises in the city centre and the link it is claimed it has with disorder.

At the Scottish Licensing Law and Practice Conference, the head of licensing at the Law Society of Scotland, Archie Maciver, praised the new police chief's approach to the issue.

He said: "Mr Williams was open and acknowledged previous failings or that some things may not have been working well in the last few years. "It feels like a return to the old-style approach and if he follows through on what feels like a more positive approach he is to be applauded."