Transatlantic buggy wars

Maclaren says British children are safe in their push-chairs. So why have American parents been issued with safety kits?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The buggy manufacturer Maclaren came under increasing pressure yesterday to issue British parents with safety kits that prevent the slicing off of children's fingertips.

Maclaren has offered one million customers in the US a fabric cover for the hinges of its buggies to stop small fingers being trapped as they are folded and unfolded.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission described the hinges as "a very serious hazard" following the amputation of the fingertips of 12 American children.

But Maclaren, based in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire, said there was no need to take similar action in the UK because its analysis of accidents suggested such preventative action was "not warranted".

Since the company announced its US "recall" on Monday, at least two British customers have come forward to claim their children lost fingertips, raising the possibility that more cases may emerge.

Yesterday Maclaren refused to disclose whether a helpline set up to advise parents had received any fresh report of injuries. "I don't know and I can't find out that information," a spokeswoman told The Independent.

Richard Langton, a leading personal injury lawyer, indicated that parents would be able to claim take legal action against retailers if their children had lost the top of a finger, claiming between £10,000 and £15,000 in damages.

"A children's product with a trapping point cannot ever be claimed to be safe," said Mr Langton, a personal injury specialist at Russell Jones.

Maclaren, established by aeronautical engineer Owen Maclaren in 1965, said it would fit new hinges to nine models: the Volo, Triumph, Quest Sport, Quest Mod, Techno XT, Techno XLR, Twin Triumph, Twin Techno and Easy Traveller.

In the meantime, the company has alerted customers about the offer of free patches and two vans have been touring New York offering the patches to customers.

Farzad Rastegar, chief executive of Maclaren USA and the controlling shareholder of the brand, told the Financial Times on Tuesday that the kits would be offered to owners elsewhere in the world, giving everyone equal treatment.

However, yesterday Maclaren's UK HQ maintained there was no need for that to happen. In a statement, it said: "In consultation with UK Trading Standards, our analysis suggested that the number of incidents in the UK and Europe did not warrant similar action, especially as there is no product defect or non-compliance with industry standards involved."

Instead the firm will put warning labels on its buggies and manuals stressing that carers should keep children away while folding or unfolding the product. "Incidents of this nature in the UK are extremely rare," Maclaren said.

Northamptonshire Trading Standards revealed that Maclaren had approached it for advice in September.

Several injuries involving Maclaren buggies have been reported to the BBC this week, one of which happened between the company contacting trading standards and its US recall.

Sarah Dutton, whose three year-old son Daniel lost a fingertip on 30 October, will have to wait for up to six weeks to establish the success of an operation to restore the fingertip.

She told the BBC's website: "Up until now we have been treating it as an accident but now we're concerned it could have been a preventable accident."

In another case, Jemima Bond's fingertip was cut off when she jumped into her Maclaren Volo last year. "It was very unpleasant," recalled her mother Lara Bond, a teacher.

"There was a lot of blood and a lot of screaming and she was in shock for a while. I took the pushchair to the tip because I didn't feel very safe using it with her any more."

Consumer Direct, the publicly-funded advice line, said that on Monday and Tuesday it had been told of four new injuries involving buggies, one of which was referred to trading standards. The service declined to identify the brands involved.

David Hedger, acting head of Northamptonshire trading standards, said: "Up until yesterday we weren't aware of any cases in the UK. Yesterday we were made aware of one and the BBC reported that several more people had come forward to say their children had been injured in some way."

He said he believed there was insufficient evidence to force the manufacturer to recall the buggies under the 1994 General Product Safety Regulations.

"All I can say is that our responsibility is a legal one, and in our view we cannot use the legal provisions that exist to require Maclaren to take action," he said.

"It's for Maclaren to answer the moral things."

Under the Wheeled Child Conveyances (safety) Regulations 1997, and EU legislation, buggies must meet British Standard 7409 and European Norm 1888.

Which?, the consumer group, pointed out that in addition to meeting these standards, several Maclaren buggies had been rated its Best Buys. However it called on the the company to offer UK parents the same protection offered to US customers. Consumer Focus, the public-funded watchdog, also made the call.

The Baby Products Association (BPA) assured parents there was no reason to be alarmed.

A spokeswoman said: "The BPA would like to reiterate its full support for Maclaren following the recent media coverage. This support is alongside that of Trading Standards who have endorsed Maclaren's excellent safety record."

Maclaren advised customers to contact its helpline 01327 841 320.

The word on the street: 'It's really disturbing'

Sue Kennedy 33, Brockley

An assistant buyer, she has a Mamas & Papas buggy for baby George, three months old. "They're talking about terms but it shouldn't be about terms, it should be about whether they are safe or not. I'm not concerned about it because I don't have a Maclaren, but it does make you wonder how safe other buggies are."

Anne-Marie Flynn 26, Greenford

Anne-Marie, a full-time mum from Greenford, borrowed a Maclaren buggy from Westfield Shopping Centre, West London, for her son Caleb, 15 months.

"I hadn't heard the news, that's really disturbing. This is the most time I've had with a Maclaren. It's alarming that they don't seem to care. They should be recalled."

Katie Hawes 29, High Wycombe

Katie, a full-time mum from High Wycombe, has a Quinny buggy for her daughter Ellie-Mae Hawes-Ramsay, two. She says: "They should recall them. They shouldn't risk children's safety just to save recalling their product. It's ridiculous. My buggy is good, your child can't get their fingers in the way."

Aneta Perchel 29, Chelsea

Aneta, a full-time mother, pushes her daughter Greta Vivienne Hampsey, in a Stoke buggy. "It's not the parents' fault. You can't keep kids under control. My baby is four months old and does what she wants, I can't control her. Maclaren should think more about kids' safety, rather than them controlling themselves."

Pauline Sullivan 55, London

A school chef from Holland Park and grandmother of two-year-old Alfie Chapman, who has a Mamas & Papas buggy. "It's disgraceful to think they're doing something in the US and nothing here. Accidents happen but chopping fingers off is a big accident. If it had been mine I would have gone ballistic."

Lynda Ayoub 39, West London

Lynda Ayoub, a full-time mother from Shepherd's Bush, has a Mamas & Papas buggy for her 10-month-old son Zakariya Lounis. "A lot of people trust the brand and the price is very high. I'm quite shocked. How could they not recall them? I have a Maclaren at home which I don't use – now I'm going to give it away."