I often get this scenario: been running a shop for decades, nice clean nose, not so much as a speeding ticket and then in comes trading standards at a very busy period and the sting commences. Then the intimidating interview, the fine, the court, the record. And, of course, in between, the worry and the bad health.
The latest sorry tale comes from Arun Patel, who runs Bonds of Shirley Newsagents, in Croydon, Surrey. By the time you read this, Croydon magistrates (assuming no postponements) will have handed down its judgement. In our several conversations, his level of outrage coming down the phone was palpable. The sting, involving the sale of cigarettes, was back in March. Arun has pictures of the girl on camera and she looked well old enough. The interview was conducted shortly after and I have a copy of it. (You know, Croydon TSOs, if you ever run out of things to do, you could submit the transcript to a cop-show programme). The interview starts "the time by my watch is exactly ten minutes past eleven". After being asked date and place of birth he was then asked for his national insurance number "off the top of his head" (your National Insurance number exists to allow you to work and pay taxes according to HM Customs & Excise. Who knows what it has to do with this case.) He was told he was not under arrest and then cautioned. He was also asked whether or not he had a Challenge 21 policy (he is not licensed).
Arun believed the outcome for this mistake (aka first offence) would be a warning. He heard nothing for five months. Then in July he got notice of a court hearing on August 28. The NFRN are providing legal aid, but he has had conflicting legal opinions about whether he should plead guilty or not.
He says: "I would never knowingly sell to the underaged. I'm being criminalised. My mother is elderly and lives in America with my brother. I won't be able to get into the country to see her if I have a criminal record."
Arun has contacted his MP. I urge all of you to do the same. None of you would knowingly risk your livelihood by selling a packet of fags to a kid. These are unfair powers with unrealistic aims. We all make mistakes.