Editorial: Punishment doesn't fit

Entrapment: The luring, by a police officer, of a person into committing a crime so that he may be prosecuted for it.

Underhand: Clandestine, deceptive or secretive.

Pedantic: Concerned chiefly with insignificant detail.

Three words used by Timaru chartered clubs caught out in a sting by liquor licensing authorities in September.

Three words used, as it happens, correctly.

But whether that makes the stings wrong is another matter.

What happened was this. On September 21 police, district council and community health staff tested the systems of chartered clubs, which along with the usual rules about not serving minors and intoxicated people, also require those buying alcohol to be signed in.

The Timaru Town and Country Club, the Timaru South Cosmopolitan Club and the Timaru RSA all failed the signing-in test, and will each have to shut their doors on a Friday as punishment. A Friday because that's the same day of the week the sting was conducted.

The T & C says this will cost it $8000 to $10,000, the Cossie club $3000 and the RSA uses the word "substantial".

All are miffed, offering extenuating circumstances, while also alluding to sledgehammers and small nuts.

Individual members no doubt will be using additional adjectives.

Not checking whether someone is signed in is not the end of the world. While against the law, most people wouldn't see it as a crime. And people do make mistakes. And those used in the sting looked like they belonged (which is the idea of course).

But it's been at least 10 years since clubs were stung. And how else might the authorities check? Trying to round everyone up and checking them individually would be disruptive, and not as foolproof.

Actually, I don't have a problem with those running the stings. They are charged with overseeing the law, and are conducting far more operations in the areas where the real issues lie.

Like underage drinking. In August they visited 24 liquor outlets and caught only one out, and in December it was one out of 18 outlets.

I'd venture those low numbers are due to the fact outlets know stings happen. And now clubs are also on notice.

No, what went wrong here was the punishment. Even if the impact is exaggerated, which I suspect it is, forcing clubs to close on a Friday is too much.

A fine of $500 would have sent the same message

The Timaru Herald