50% of Retailers Sell Fireworks to Children in Five News Investigation
The undercover investigation, which took place in Southall, West London, within the last week, shows 10 stores being visited by 16-year-old actors who attempted to buy a selection of rockets, roman candles, and other explosives. Five of the 10 stores broke the law and sold fireworks to the children.
The report, broadcast in the run-up to fireworks night on 5th November, raises serious questions about whether the law that allows retailers to be prosecuted for selling fireworks to under-18s is as effective as it should be.
As part of the investigation using 16-year-old actors Alex and Bahar, five shops in Southall correctly asked for ID and when our actors couldn’t produce any, refused to sell fireworks.
But incredibly, five of the ten shops did sell a selection of fireworks to the child actors. Four did so without challenging their age at all.
One shopkeeper who did ask for proof of age simply served the children when they claimed they were over 18. The shops that broke the law were a mixture of small, medium, and large retailers, and even included a Somerfield supermarket, which has a policy of challenging anyone who looks like they’re under 25.
A spokesman for Somerfield said: “As a local community retailer Somerfield takes its social responsibilities very seriously and has a strict code of practice for sales of fireworks.
“This includes our over 25-year-rule which means that anyone attempting to buy alcohol or fireworks, who appears to be under the age of 25, are asked to prove they are over 18 before a sale can be made.
“We have a comprehensive training programme, from induction through to regular training sessions. As well as till check prompts and a refusal register to log when any customer is refused. A supervisor is required to remove fireworks from a locked cabinet.
“Our stores are also audited regularly to ensure that they are complying with our procedures but unfortunately human error can occur.
“We do everything possible to ensure that we act in accordance with our obligations in respect of the sale of fireworks and have immediately reviewed our current training and enforcement procedures at this store.”
Retailers that flout the law risk a six-month jail sentence or a £5000 fine. But trading standards officers have told Five News that the law that allows them to prosecute retailers is a difficult piece of legislation to use. It is not the individual seller, but the business, that faces prosecution, so businesses can offer the defence that they have trained their staff sufficiently and the sale in question was an isolated oversight by their employee.
But in contrast, the laws restricting the sale of alcohol allow police to issue a Penalty Notice for Disorder – an immediate £80 fine given out as easily as a parking ticket.
Five News reporter Catherine Jones, who carried out the investigation and who fronts tomorrow’s report, said: “It was shocking to see how, without a second thought, shop workers handed over fireworks, that can maim and kill, to two children who clearly should have been challenged.
“But it’s equally disappointing that prosecuting these shops is such a cumbersome process.
“Surely a Penalty Notice system, where an employee gets an £80 fine instantly, would be a much better deterrent. Fireworks can ruin young people’s lives, so retailers that sell them to youngsters need to get a punishment that makes them realise the seriousness of the offence. “