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COERCION BY TRADING STANDARDS OFFICERS
David Delaney

Trading standards officers have recently been advised to use every possible means of persuasion and coercion against traders who are still selling in imperial units, short of actual prosecution. A formal "Infringement Notice" must precede prosecution. Only a very small number of  infringement notices has been issued, to Dave Stephens, butcher, by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, who took no further action, and to Steven Thoburn, greengrocer, of Sunderland. Steven Thoburn is the only person whose case has actually gone to court.

Trading standards officers use all sorts of threats and intimidation against traders selling in pounds and ounces. In the case of Neil Collins, a market trader in Sutton, the Council is threatening to deny him a trader's licence on the grounds that he is an unfit person to be allowed to trade. This is because he insists on selling in imperial measures.  (See Martyrs pages)

Another typical example concerns Julian Harman of A1 Fuiterers and Mr Dove, Fishmonger, in Camelford, North Cornwall. They were first visited by a "mystery shopper" and moments after by Mrs Sharon Foster, trading standards officer. Her conduct was not that befitting an official simply ascertaining the facts. She allegedly entered into both businesses radiating indignation and was very unpleasant and aggressive. Unsurprisingly, a scuffle broke out when she physically attempted to remove, without a warrant, several of these trader's pricing tickets. She was ejected but not before remarking to Mr Dove "This is most unfair to the supermarkets."

Later she wrote to Mr Harman as follows "Further to my visit to your premises it appears that offences may have been committed. Before deciding on the appropriate course of action to be taken against you, this authority would wish to carry out a formal tape-recorded interview, in accordance with the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. You are advised that you are entitled to seek legal advice and have a solicitor present."
She also wrote "it is alleged that on 31st January 2001, at A1 Fruiterers, you did: (1) By displaying a sign stating "Granny Smith's 45p per Pound" indicate that the Granny Smith's Apples were for sale to a consumer without there being indicated the unit price of the product in the required metric unit, namely per kilogram, which is contrary to paragraph 5 of the scheduled to the Prices Act 1974. (2) By displaying a signs stating "Sprouts 39p per Pound", indicate that the sprouts were for sale to a consumer without there being indicated the unit price of the product in the required metric unit, etc.."

This type of letter is being used instead of a formal "infringement notice" but it is designed to frighten traders into selling produce in metric units.

Intimidation by trading standards officers is likely to continue until the conclusion of the case against Steven Thoburn, which may well be appealed to the House of Lords, when the legality of the Metrication Regulations will be finally determined. For the time being the 1985 Weights and Measures Act, which gives equal legal status to metric and imperial measures, can be assumed to be the law of the land. In the mean time traders can legally ignore the trading standards officer's threats.

Design & Layout S-Print 2001. Text copyright of individual contributors