Abingdon DIY store guilty of selling knife to teenager

A regional chain of DIY stores whose Abingdon branch sold a knife to a 16 year old in January 2020 has pleaded guilty following a prosecution brought by Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service.

Selling a knife to a person under the age of 18 is an offence under S141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Sydenhams Limited pleaded guilty to a single offence under this Act at Oxford Magistrates’ Court on Friday 18 December 2020.

The court heard that on 21 January 2020, trading standards made a test purchase of a Stanley knife from the Sydenhams store in Abingdon with the assistance of a 16 year old volunteer.

The company was fined £15,000 reduced to £10,000 to take account of their early guilty plea and ordered to pay the Council’s full costs of £1,400 and a £1,000 victim surcharge. The magistrates commented that at the time the sale was made not enough due diligence was exhibited by Sydenhams.

In mitigation counsel representing the defendant company stated that it had no previous convictions in almost 150 years of trading, that improvements to their systems had been made, and that the company had a history of moral responsibility and good ethics. Defence counsel also stated that the sale was the result of a mistake by an otherwise exemplary employee.

Councillor Judith Heathcoat, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said: “No matter the size of your business, anyone who sells age restricted products must ensure their staff are adequately trained and prepared to request a valid form of identification, when appropriate.”

“The consequences of knives ending up in the hands of children can be catastrophic for both those directly involved and for the wider local community. It is therefore imperative that businesses take sufficient steps to prevent potentially lethal items being sold to children in the first place.”

Jody Kerman, Oxfordshire County Council’s Head of Trading Standards, added: “Prior to test purchases being attempted, stores are visited by trading standards officers and given advice on the sale of age-restricted products. They are also informed of upcoming test purchasing and given time to implement improvements to their processes prior to the tests being carried out.

“On this occasion, despite this advice being provided, a sale was still made and when investigated it became evident that Sydenhams had failed to take the reasonable steps to prevent such purchases of knives and other potentially harmful items such as glues and solvents, as the law requires. This is particularly disappointing for a larger retailer with 24 stores, almost 500 staff and an annual turnover in excess of £75 million.

“This retailer had the resources to implement a legally compliant system but failed to do so and in such circumstances we believe that this prosecution was justified.”

From April 2019 to March 2020, trading standards services across England and Wales carried out 1,614 test purchases of knives with 210 stores failing to make the required age checks (13 per cent). This is a drop in the failure rate by 2 per cent compared to 2018/19 but the majority of sales made (68 per cent) were from independent retailers.

To combat this, Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service will be providing business advice and conducting further test purchasing to ensure retailers and their staff are complying with the law. As part of ongoing Operation Sceptre, test purchasing and business visits will also be done by Thames Valley Police.

Shop staff involved in the physical sale of knives to anyone under the age of 18 can also face unlimited fines and up to six months imprisonment. In March this year, a former employee of Poundland in Cowley was ordered to pay £879 in fines and costs after she sold a knife to an underaged volunteer in July 2019 during another trading standards operation.

This summer, two Oxfordshire businesses, Lewis Baker Retail Ltd and Haynes of Challow Ltd pleaded guilty to similar offences and were ordered to pay £2,909.46 and £9,912.81 respectively in fines and costs.

Anyone with information about the illegal sale of knives, alcohol or cigarettes to people under 18 should contact Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service through the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133 or by email: Trading.Standards@Oxfordshire.gov.uk


Photo: Knives recovered by Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service during test purchases.