Prove you're over 18, store tells pensioner trying to buy sherry

24th January 2007

Stumped: World War II veteran and ex-lord mayor Jack Taylor

Jack Archer can look back over a crowded life that includes fighting in a world war, serving as lord mayor of York and receiving the MBE.

At 87, he appreciates he is some way from the first flush of youth.

So he was somewhat surprised to be asked to prove he was over 18 when he tried to buy a bottle of his favourite sherry.

Mr Archer naturally assumed the cashier at a Morrisons store was joking. But she then repeated the question.

It soon emerged that he was a victim of the supermarket chain's new policy of asking all customers their age, however superfluous the inquiry may seem.

According to the store chain, it is "defending our moral and legal obligations" after being caught selling alcohol to someone under 18.

Mr Archer, who was awarded the MBE for his services to the city of York, said: "I like to think of myself as a youthful 87-year-old but it would be a stretch to pass myself off as a teenager.

"The checkout girl said she had to ask how old I was and I laughed.

"But it then became pretty obvious she wasn"t making a joke and actually meant it. I was totally stumped so I just said, 'I"m over 80. Will that do?'

"She seemed genuinely reluctant to serve me without some written proof but one look at me should have been enough.

"When I persisted that I really was well above the legal drinking age she let me have my sherry.

"I"m a bit wary about telling people my date of birth so perhaps I should have pulled out my bus pass."

Mr Archer, a former railway carriage repairer who served with the Royal Artillery in France during the Second World War, added: "I don't blame the individual staff because they are just obeying instructions.

"I should think they get a few complaints though."

He was not alone in discovering that the Morrisons policy spares no one's blushes.

Audrey Sawyer, also of York, turns 80 next month, but was asked for proof of her age when buying a bottle of wine.

She said: "A young lad at the quick checkout asked me if I was 18. I was amazed. It's just really funny."

Don Parlabean, 70, chairman of York Older People's Assembly, was also asked for identification when trying to buy alcohol at Morrisons.

"I think it's a ridiculous policy," he said yesterday. "Surely the staff can use a bit of common sense.

"You don't need to ask someone in their 70s and 80s if they are old enough to buy booze.

"When they asked if I was old enough I offered to show them my bus pass."

A spokesman for Morrisons, whose executive chairman Ken Morrison is 75, said: "The question is not being asked to cause offence and no disrespect is intended.

"We simply wish to make sure that we satisfy our moral and legal obligations with regard to the sale of alcohol.

"As a member of the Retail Alcohol Standards Group, we take our responsibility with regard to selling alcohol very seriously and have procedures in place designed to ensure that we meet all legal requirements."

The spokesman added: "Store staff are trained to be highly vigilant in the sale of alcohol and the detection of potential underage purchases."

A number of pensioners in York, however, believe a little extra training may be needed.