TRADING standards watchdogs in County Durham are ready to crack down on shops that sell fireworks illegally.

Officers from Durham County Council are to visit all firework retailers in the county in the run-up to November 5, to make sure they comply with all legal obligations.

And they are warning traders they will use volunteers to attempt to make test purchases where under-age sales are suspected.

This year, the law has been strengthened and requires notices to be displayed in businesses selling fireworks stating that it is illegal to supply adult fireworks to anyone under 18, although this does not include novelty matches and party poppers.

It is also illegal for anyone under-18 to possess fireworks in a public place.

Trading standards head Phillip Holman said: "These measures form part of new legislation introduced to tackle misuse of fireworks and anti-social behaviour.

"The legislation also imposes a maximum noise limit of 120 decibels on fireworks sold to the public, bans dangerous air bombs and encourages firework suppliers to be more diligent in asking for identification when selling to customers of uncertain age.

"The majority of retailers do act responsibly but we are determined to crack down on those who are tempted to sell fireworks to under 18s.

"Traders should be aware that we will carry out a programme of attempted test purchases using under age volunteers where under age sales are suspected."

Deputy council leader Councillor Don Ross said: "Hopefully these new measures will help us curb some of the more anti-social aspects of firework misuse and, at the same time, make an impact on the number of firework related accidents in the county."

Anyone concerned about illegal sales or retailers wanting advice on the legislation is asked to call 0191-383 3589.