Illegal fireworks sales to children (29/10/10)

A fresh warning has gone out to those involved in the sale of fireworks that it is an offence to sell fireworks to anyone under 18 years of age. This follows an undercover test purchasing exercise over the past week, which resulted in three of the 12 retailers involved selling fireworks to an underage customer.

Trading Standards officers from The Highland Council carried out an undercover test purchasing exercise, involving a 16 year old volunteer.

Gordon Robb, the Council’s Trading Standards Manager, reported: “It has been a very disappointing exercise as we really thought Highland retailers were on top of this issue.  Regrettably we can report that we had a 25% failure rate this year as three shops out of the 12 targeted sold fireworks to our 16 year old volunteer.  Fireworks are legally classed as explosives.  In the wrong hands they can cause serious injuries and pose a severe fire risk to property.  Ultimately the law is there to ensure fireworks are sold to and used only by adults. Bear in mind it is also an offence for someone under 18 to possess a firework in a public place.  We are aware our colleagues in Northern Constabulary are reinforcing these possession rules this fireworks season.”

He added: “Each of the retailers who unlawfully sold fireworks on this occasion has been reminded of the seriousness of the offence and the consequences of any further breach.  Shop staff as well as business owners can be prosecuted for selling fireworks and retailers should reinforce this message with their employees.   I am encouraged that one of the retailers who sold to our volunteer has decided to go public in his response to these matters.”

Aonghais MacDonald owns and manages the Spar shop in Kinmylies, Inverness, where one of the unlawful underage sales took place.

Mr MacDonald explained: “Obviously I’m horrified and extremely disappointed one of my team sold fireworks to this young person.  We take our responsibilities as a community retailer very seriously and I fully appreciate why all these age restriction laws exist.  Ultimately this falls to me and it is my job to ensure this never happens again. In conjunction with Spar UK we use our own undercover test purchasers to check our systems are working – particularly for alcohol sales.  The test purchasers we use ourselves are usually in there early 20s and well above the 18 year old limit.  This is designed to reinforce our ‘Think 25’ approach to under age sales.  In some ways I’m glad Trading Standards have uncovered a weakness in our current procedures and as a direct result of this incident I’m going to introduce further staff training and awareness programmes to reinforce our ‘Think 25’ policy.  This means that for any age restricted product, be it alcohol, cigarettes or fireworks, if you look under 25 then proof of age will be requested and we will refuse to sell if the customer cannot provide evidence of their true age.”

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Notes for Editors:

The Highland Council’s Trading Standards Unit carries out test purchasing activities in accordance with the Scottish Government’s ‘Practical Guide to Test Purchasing’ see www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/201135/0053738.pdf

In this exercise the fully trained young person was instructed by Trading Standard Officers to go into each firework retailer and ask to buy specific fireworks.  The volunteer is under constant visual supervision by officers throughout the attempted sale and instructed not to lie about their age if asked.  An officer was positioned in the shop witnessing the transaction throughout.

Supplying Category 2 or 3 fireworks to persons under 18 is prohibited under the Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2010.   A breach of this regulation is an offence under Section 12 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and technically can be punished by imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine up to £5000 or to both.

The Proof of Age Standards Scheme - http://www.brc.org.uk/pass/default.asp?section_id=1&content_id=0

Further information can be obtained from Gordon Robb or Mark McGinty at Highland Council Trading Standards on 01463 228700.

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