High street discount retailer Poundstretcher has been fined £350,000 for selling tens of thousands of dodgy batteries that were potentially harmful to young children.
Crown Crest (Leicester) plc, the importer and majority share hold of Poundstrecher PLC was also fined £140,000 for their involvement with the importation of the batteries.
The fines, among the biggest of their kind for a High Street store, were imposed by a judge sitting at Swansea Crown Court because he wanted to make the sale of such batteries uneconomic to companies which sold them
The fines came at the end of a nationwide probe launched by Swansea Council’s trading standards team after they were tipped off about the sales of batteries at the firm’s stores in Neath Port Talbot and Swansea.
It resulted in more than 85,000 AA, AAA and other everyday batteries being seized from the firm, following tests funded by National Trading Standards’ National Tasking Group. And it emerged that Poundstretcher had sold more than four million of the batteries, normally in packs of 20, in its stores up and down the country as well as online since 2011.
Mark Child, Cabinet Member for Wellbeing at Swansea Council, welcomed the fines imposed at Swansea Crown Court.
He said: “Poundstretcher is a household name with more than 300 stores across the country. It prides itself on selling goods at knockdown prices to families, many of whom are customers because they believe they’ll get quality goods at bargain prices.
“But cheap prices don’t entitle Poundstretcher to sell nasty goods. Their customers deserve better than to be sold sub-standard batteries which were leaking zinc and acid and putting people – especially young children – at risk of very serious harm.
He added: “It frankly beggars belief that even after we ordered the firm to stop selling the batteries because we believed they were a danger to the public, the company continued to sell them online – many at 99p for a pack of 20.”
The judge described the trade in the dodgy batteries as ‘lucrative’ and said: “The court must deter such behaviour to, in simple terms, make it uneconomical to trade in such batteries.”
Trading Standards Officer Rhys Harries said: “The fines are the biggest I’ve ever seen in a single prosecution of a High Street store.
“I think it reflects the seriousness of the offences as far as the court was concerned. People buying batteries – especially at this time of the year – expect them to be safe to use. Tens of thousands which were being sold by Poundstretcher were not.”
Poundstretcher pleaded guilty to a total of 35 charges of selling AA, AAA, C2 and D-type batteries, contrary to the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 at a hearing In September. It also pleaded guilty to failing to comply with a ‘suspension order’ issued under the same legislation.
Trading standards officers in Swansea began their investigation in August last year following a tip off from colleagues in Neath Port Talbot. The inquiry spread to towns across Wales and others in England including Pembrokeshire, Powys and Warrington.
Test purchases were conducted at a number of Poundstretcher stores and tests revealed batteries sold under the brand names Hyundai and V2 Xtreme were defective. The batteries were standard types sold for use in TV remote controls, games consoles and children’s toys in households up and down the country.
Crown Crest Ltd, the company which owns most of Poundstretchers, admitted it imported the goods from the Far East and had sold 3.9m of them since 2011.
During its investigation, trading standards officers could not find evidence that Poundstretcher had a written procedure for reporting safety concerns.
In evidence to the court, the council said: “Poundstretcher was asked about the procedure for safety concerns and they stated they would report via the company QA department, area manager, health and safety manager or company secretary. However this procedure isn’t written down anywhere.”