Byron Jackson first emailed me in February. He and his wife Nadette, who run a Spar store in South Wales, were about to be prosecuted and were totally shell-shocked.

The previous October, trading standards officers had mounted a sting by sending a 14-year-old girl in to buy a bottle of Smirnoff Ice.

The staff, a woman with 30 years experience but who normally works the early morning shift and is therefore not subject to the abuse the rest of them get when they refuse the local yobs, actually did ask the girl if she had ID. She looked at the ID and assumed that, because it had been proffered, it made it all legitimate.

Now, let’s have a look around the store. Two posters from the TSO’s own Validate Pack are on display (one in English, one in Welsh). Then there are the usual reminders relating to the sale of age-related goods, and leaflets giving info on both Validate UK and Citizen Cards in a holder on the counter. The refusals register bulges nicely. What else? Info cards listing the main age-restricted goods and instructions for asking for ID are attached to both tills facing the operators and there is an A3 poster spelling out the rules and threatening dismissal for failing to follow the correct procedures.

The member of staff concerned is a respected member of the community. She was so traumatised by the interview with the TSO that she broke into floods of tears and took weeks to recover. The Jacksons had their work cut out just persuading her not to resign.

Second instalment – and I promise it gets better, in a good sense.

The Jacksons’ wholesaler, Capper & Co, put them in touch with a solicitor who put their chances at 50–50 as “he had seen some very strange decisions”. The cost of defending would be high at £8,000 but Byron and Nadette felt strongly that they were innocent and that to plead guilty would actually be letting their staff down.
Then, hurrah! At the last moment their insurance company agreed to pay the bulk of the cost.

It was still an ordeal. Nadette had to give evidence. Their barrister assured her that the prosecution had promised no tough stuff but the prosecutor turned out to be both a liar and a bully. She managed to stay calm and answer honestly, and in the end reason prevailed in the form of a not guilty verdict.

Just like head banging isn’t it? Lovely when it stops.

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