Test purchasers and other covert methods are being used to catch out illegal vape sellers and more rule-breakers in Reading.

Council officers used test purchasers to catch people selling vapes to underage teens at Reading Festival this year.

It is illegal to sell a nicotine vape to people under the age of 18.

During the operation, a stallholder at the festival was found to be selling vapes to underage teens.

Reading Borough Council’s trading standards team took immediate action by asking a market inspector at the festival to expel the stallholder and stop them from returning.

After that, a follow-up warning letter was sent to the stall holder and their local authority was notified that two underage sales had been undertaken.

READ MORE: Reading Festival bosses grilled on crime and safety measures

The operation was undertaken with Thames Valley Police, with details of it being given as an example of covert methods the council staff are allowed to use in a report to Reading Borough Council’s policy committee.

The report was presented at a meeting on Monday, October 30.

Michael Graham, the council’s assistant director for legal and democratic services, said: “The example given there shows that a good policy and procedures can actually help officers empowered to do that enforcement work which makes a difference.”

Methods of covert surveillance the council is allowed to use includes council officers monitoring people in a covert manner and the use of trained test purchasers, who can either be adults or a young person under the age of 18.

Reading Borough Council may also use a covert human intelligence source [CHIS] i.e. someone who is undercover as part of its inspections.

It is the council’s policy that a CHIS wearing or carrying a surveillance device like a camera does not need a separate directed or intrusive surveillance authorisation provided the device will only be used in the presence of

the CHIS.

The council is prohibited from carrying out intrusive surveillance, which would involve going into someone’s private property, such as their home and their vehicles.

Liz Terry, the lead councillor for corporate services, stressed that the covert methods the council is allowed to deploy would only be used sparingly.

Councillor Terry (Labour, Coley) said: “Whilst not used very often we need to make sure they’re used appropriately and correctly.

“[It involves] working with partners as well to make sure that we detect and prosecute fraud and any unlawful action that’s taken in the community.

“They are important tools, not to be used too often, but there is a certain amount of transparency here to make sure everybody knows what we do and why we’re doing it.”

At the meeting, the council’s policy committee unanimously approved its policy on the use of surveillance powers granted to it and controlled within the  Regulatory Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and Investigatory Powers Act 2016.