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Metric Culprits

Seizure of Steven Thoburn's Weighing Equipment

Mr Thoburn, in common thousands of other food traders, used lb/oz weighing machines. However, in February 2000, Mr Thoburn was served with a notice by Sunderland Council trading standards department, warning him of court action, and given 28 days' notice to convert his lb/oz weighing machines to metric. On March 31 2000 trading standards officers revisited Mr Thoburn's greengrocery in Southwick Market, Sunderland, and stamped the scales as not fit for trade.

Steven Thoburn of Sunderland
Steve Thoburn
(Picture from First Voice, newsletter of Federation of Small Businesses)

On July 4 2000, a undercover female consumer protection officer made a "test purchase" of 34p worth of bananas, advertised at 25p per pound, which Mr Thoburn weighed out in lb/oz. Shortly afterwards, two more trading standards officers arrived and told Mr Thoburn that he was breaking the law. They stated that they were to impound the offending lb/oz weighing machines. When Mr Thoburn objected, two police officers were called, and Mr Thoburn was warned that his behaviour could lead to arrest for causing a breach of the peace during an operation that Mr Thoburn later described as "frightening and heavy handed".

Mr Thoburn had three sets of weighing scales impounded, worth £1,304, and Mr Thoburn was forced to tell four of his ten staff not to come into work the following day. A Sunderland city council spokesman said: "Our advice from the DTI is that our legislation is perfectly valid. From Jan 1, it has been illegal to use machinery weighing imperial measures. If metric equipment is not installed the imperial machinery can be seized with a view to forfeiture".

After a two-month interval, on September 6th, 2000, a spokesman for Sunderland city council said: "Following careful consideration the city council has decided to prosecute Steven Thoburn for using non-metricated scales in his business".

The council further said, "Advice obtained from a leading QC by the Local Authorities Coordinating Body on Trading Standards has confirmed that the laws relating to metrication are valid and the council's own barrister has confirmed that the seizure of the scales was lawful...It was not our choice to bring this case; it is the law of the land. We have been working for five years to notify local traders that changes were coming into place. Mr Thoburn has had several warnings, but he chose to ignore them and to flout the law. We had no choice but to prosecute".

Mr Thoburn told reporters, "I am ready for the court case; I just want this resolved so that I can go back to running my business. I believe we will win and I hope that if we do it will pave the way for other people who want to use pounds and ounces to fight back." Officers from the council returned one set of scales to his stall at the beginning September, but left a letter explaining that the other two were being retained for court proceedings.

Here follows is the text of the Summons sent to Steven Thoburn, instructing him to attend his pre-trial hearing on November 7th, 2000.

"SUMMONS TO STEVEN THOBURN OF 11 ASSOCIATION ROAD, ROKER, SUNDERLAND

INFORMATION has this day been laid by Colin G Langley, Director of Administration and duly authorised Officer of the Council of the City of Sunderland of Civic Centre, Sunderland, being the local weights and measures authority for the said City THAT on the fourth day of July, 2000 at The Market, Southwick, Sunderland in the County of Tyne and Wear, you did have in your possession for use for trade a non-automatic weighing machine, namely a System 30 weighing machine, serial number 190073, which did not bear a stamp indicating that it had been passed by an Inspector or approved verifier as fit for such use, which was not defaced otherwise than by reason of fair wear and tear. CONTRARY to Section 11 (2) of the Weights and Measures Act, 1985.

YOU are hereby summoned to appear before the Magistrates' Court sitting at Gillbridge Avenue, Sunderland on Tuesday the 7th day of November 2000 at the hour of 2.00 p.m. to answer the said Information.

Clerk to the Justices for the Petty Sessional Division of Sunderland".

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