Thursday, 4 April 2013


by Colin Bloom

For many years I was the political lead for Public Protection & Safety in a large Unitary Authority. Apart from trying to get the Council, Police, Fire and Ambulance Service and others to work together, I was also the lead on less well known but hugely important teams such as Trading Standards, Youth Offending and Drug & Alcohol. For the most part, all good people doing a difficult job in challenging circumstances.

During this period, my feelings for our Trading Standards Officers went from disinterest to huge respect and admiration. In particular was their dogged determination to hunt down and get convictions on what have been euphemistically called 'Rogue Traders'.

'Rogue Traders' are the sort of people who typically pick on an older person and pretend that they were 'just passing' and happened to notice a missing tile from their roof. The fact that they had just knocked it off with a stone propelled from a catapult only briefly explains the sort of people we are talking about. Once they have fixed the tile, they then 'notice' that the whole roof, needs 'repairing'. The modus-operandi then follows that they'll convince the frail and confused homeowner to allow them to fix it (they usually bodge it) before they march them down to their bank and force them to withdraw tens of thousands of pounds for these bogus repairs. So no, not 'Rogue Traders' but utterly rotten vile exploitative villainous hateful moral bankrupts. 

The tactics deployed by our teams were amazing, and yielded many convictions, none of which in my opinion got the sentences deserved; I would throw away the key... The area was affluent with an ageing population, so for us it was always a challenge to contain the problem. Moreover, I have to give praise to our local Police Commander and his team who all did a huge amount in partnership to make our area as safe as possible against this nasty kind of crime. 

I used to point out to the Trading Standards team that God was on their side too! Reminding them that the Bible says in the book of Proverbs, "The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favour with him." 

During my time in this role, I learned one joke about Trading Standards Officers from one of the best. It goes something like this:

A Trading Standards Officer goes to his local bakers; looking in the window he sees a lovely array of cakes and buns and a sign that says "EVERYTHING £1".

He goes inside and points to the delicious looking vanilla sponge, "I'll have that please."

The baker says, "That'll be £2 please." 

The Trading Standards Officer splutters, "But the sign says, EVERYTHING £1!"

"Ah," said the baker, "That's madeira cake!"

Boom boom. Nevertheless, with my allegiances nailed clearly to the mast; that I have deep affection for Trading Standards officers, I must point out something that I saw recently which now means I have two jokes about this honourable profession.

On a market stall somewhere in South London, a street trader is selling vinyl records. Remember those things we used to listen to before iTunes and Compact Discs. Box after box of singles, EP's and LP's - I was in heaven! Original Pink Floyd, complete with posters, Luther Vandross, even some early Bowie. It was a nostalgic trip back to the mid Seventies and to Our Price Records with a crisp £1 note in my hand!

However, the signs around the stall didn't say 7" or 12", what you and I know as the gold standard for vinyl record sizes, but 178mm and 305mm records! The stall holder claims that they were told by a Trading Standards officer (from a different Local Authority) that describing their second hand, ancient discs using Imperial Lengths meant they were liable to prosecution under the 'Weights and Measures Act of 1985'.

All I can say is I am glad this neither happened on my watch nor on my patch, but if you can find a more ludicrous example of jaw droppingly ridiculous pettifogging bureaucracy I would love to hear about it. 

Whilst where I live our Trading Standards teams are out hunting down villainous vermin, the rest of us can lean back, pour ourselves 568 ml of beer and listen to a 305mm remix of anything by Madness.


Ian Gallehawk said...


I think this post actually throws up a number of issues.

Firstly, I'm sure we all understand that we have moved into a metric age and that we need to comply with legislation. That said, it is utterly deranged to suggest that someone could or should face prosecution for having the audacaity to describe a 12" record as being a 12" record. How should a stall holder at an antique fair describe a vintage 24" ruler? We all know that this is not the purpose of the legislation and such a prosecution would never take place as it would be wholly disproportionate.

Secondly, I share your admiration for the Trading Standards officers. They work tirelessly to deal with often dangerous people and they are very much unsung heroes of the fight against crime.

Thirdly, you touch on lenient sentences. I couldn't agree more! Your example relates to "rogue traders". As we know, when not committing these crimes, these individuals are drawing every benefit the state is prepared to give them. Repeated offending receives minimal penalties.

Link this to the Philpot case. There was a violent man, who had stabbed a previous partner multiple times, had a history of violent behaviour and had no intention of working but the system supported his bizarre lifestyle and left a violent man free to take six young, innocent lives.

The political war of words is already underway. My only involvement in that is to make the strong observation that we must not label everyone on benefits as being like Philpot. To do so would be very wrong. Many decent people need the support of the state, temporary or long term.

My issue is to ask why, as a society, do we make things so hard for ourselves? Why do our Trading Standards officers deal over and over with the same people? There is a proven way of cutting crime; lock serious criminals away for significant periods of time.

Serious criminals are not those, who display signs in feet and inches. They are the people, who exploit the vulnerable or engage in the use of violence.

"Rogue traders" fall into this category. So do the likes of Philpot. Convicted of an appalling attempted murder and with a history of further violence, he was free to live a bizarre lifestyle, funded by the state, while exploiting/assaulting two seemingly weak women.

The potential for intervention was there at every stage of the way but the system allowed him to carry on to the recent, unspeakably tragic conclusion.

The economic arguments are complex and I couldn't claim t have a full grasp of all the intricacies. I'll leave all that to the politicians.

The social arguments are much clearer. Few decent, rational working people object to a welfare state, which protects the vulnerable and ensures that working people do not starve between jobs. I don't know any decent, rational person, who supports a welfare state, which funds rogue traders and the likes of Philpot, while they live unchallenged in an alternative reality.

Perhaps now is the time to review how we redress the balance and I humbly suggest that we start with sentencing guidelines.

Jim said...

The Weights and Measures Act 1985 only applies to things sold BY the weight - e.g if you bought some sweets at £1 per kilo - so it would not apply to a 'fixed' product like a vinyl - therefore something doesn't add up - either the stall holder is mistaken or he was badly advised.