Management and training procedures at the town-centre branch of a national retail chain were questioned when the company was prosecuted for the sale of a knife to under-age customers.
Poundworld Retail Ltd appeared at Croydon Magistrates’ Court on 16 May and was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay costs after being found guilty of selling a knife to a person under the age of 18. The total penalty, including victim surcharge, amounted to £8,520.
The court heard that, as part of a test-purchasing exercise conducted by the council’s trading standards department, two 14-year-old volunteers went to the store’s North End branch on 28 May 2015 and, after selecting a kitchen knife from a display, took it for payment to one of the tills.
The sales assistant, on only his second day at work in the store, failed to challenge the youngsters and the sale was completed.
When interviewed, the 19-year-old assistant revealed that this was his first job, and the training offered to him on his first day included being given less than an hour to read through a 40-page training manual. He was neither given a copy for further study, nor questioned on what he had read.
The first day also included about three hours’ supervised till work.
The court was told that it is company practice to put a new employee on the tills on their first and second days at work, and that the assistant was supervised at all times by a qualified member of staff. When the sale took place, nobody else was working on the same bank of tills, and no other member of staff was seen to be observing.
A named member of staff, who was described as being “qualified to make judgement to determine if a refusal should have been made”, did not intervene in the sale when it took place. When questioned as to why this member of staff had not intervened, the company could provide no reason.
Shortly after the sale took place, officers spoke to the assistant manager, Bozena Lech. She confirmed that the store did have till prompts warning of under-age sales. The assistant, however, said the till prompts system was not shown to him during his training, and the first time he had seen one was when the sale was being made.
The company stated that it operates the Challenge 21 scheme – designed to prevent illegal under-age sales – but no signs could be seen around the till area reminding staff and customers of the age restrictions, and that they may be asked to show identification.
Poundworld produced a refusals register for the store in question. The register showed that staff at this branch had logged refusals for the sale of items not subject to age restrictions, such as toy guns.
The company failed to respond to a notice asking it to contact the trading standards team. An officer contacted the head office and was told that the company was not aware of the incident.
Poundworld submitted evidence of documented procedures which should have been followed by the Croydon store to prevent under-age sales. However, in practice these were not being followed, and the prosecution suggested that management at the Croydon store had failed to train staff correctly, directly resulting in the illegal knife sale.
Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice
“This is another fantastic result for our diligent trading standards team and the robust approach to tackling the dangers of the sale of knives to young people.
“It seems that Poundworld, while aware of the law, and its responsibilities under the law, was operating a tick-box system as regards its branches, and failing to ensure that its rules were being adhered to.
“The company must realise the importance of doing more to ensure that things are being done correctly in its branches, with initial training, follow-up and refresher training, and the monitoring of continued performance.
“Knives in the wrong hands present a very real danger, and it’s vitally important that robust steps are taken to prevent under-age sales.
“In this case, knives in the store were on open shelves with no warning signs visible. Had the knives been displayed behind the tills, it would have given staff a reminder, when a sale was being made, to check that the customer was not under age.”