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Three Invercargill premises operated by the local licensing trust sold alcohol to a 16-year-old boy during part of a controlled-purchase operation on Friday night.
The Police Alcohol Harm Reductions Unit and Public Health South conducted the controlled operation, sending an underage person into nine licensed premises with the intention to test compliance.
Sergeant John Harris said three had failed, having sold alcohol to an underage person, in this case a 16-year-old boy.
Those Invercargill Licensing Trust premises were Barluca, Dee Street, East End Bottle Store, Tay Street, and Southland Super Liquor, Elles Rd.
In two of the cases it was the duty manager who made the sale, and all three sales staff had failed to ask the youth's age or request identification.
"A successful operation for enforcement authorities is when the underage person is ejected from the licensed premise and no sale is made."
Sgt Harris described the results as "awful".
"This country is presently going through reforms to the Sale of Liquor Act and yet with all the publicity surrounding this issue we still have outlets that are prepared to sell to underagers."
Sgt Harris said the boy should have been ejected from every premises, and "there is no excuse" for not having done so.
The hospitality industry's own standard was, "If they appear under 25, ask for ID. No ID - no service," he said.
Joint operations were likely to continue.