Designer dress seller defies price tag order: Shop owner says displaying cost of clothes in window will attract thieves

THE OWNER of a designer dress shop in central London faces court action and a pounds 5,000 fine unless she prices clothes displayed in her shop window, writes Rhys Williams.

Helen Thomas, 53, who owns the Thayer Street Shop, off Marylebone High Street, has so far defied, on grounds of taste and security, Westminster City Council's order to introduce price tags.

'Aesthetically, they look better without prices pinned on,' she explained yesterday. 'Also I've been robbed three times in the last 15 years. The last time was in February when someone smashed the window with a sledgehammer. Now I've had to install armoured glass and metal grilles. Pricing the clothes is an open invitation for thieves to help themselves.

'The clothes in my shop are made from very expensive materials like cashmere and silk. I am not going to stick pins through them just to please the council.'

Since a Price Marking Order was introduced in 1991 under the Prices Act 1974, all shopkeepers are required to display prices on goods in windows, though not necessarily on each item. A menu board in the corner, for example, is sufficient.

This month two council enforcement officers came into the shop and told Ms Thomas she was in breach. If the case goes to court, she could face a fine of up to pounds 5,000. If she still refuses to comply, her goods could be seized.

Ms Thomas added: 'They're insane. They've got nothing better to do than pick on the only shop round here that's still in business. This enforcement officer must have walked past 26 closed-down shops before coming into mine.

'I'll admit I was rude to her, but I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I've taken all the clothes out of the window and I now have a big banner in the window saying 'Lack of display by order of Westminster City Council'. My window used to look beautiful, now it's hideous.'

Bill Butterfield, director of consumer protection at Westminster council, said court action was still 'a long way off', but added: 'We have warned her in a letter that if she continues to ignore the order, we will have no other option.'

As for security, Mr Butterfield said: 'The law does not take account of things like that, I'm afraid. I'm an officer tasked with enforcing the law, not questioning why the Government brought it in.

'But I do think that displaying prices helps people make rational choices about what they want to buy. It's information, and information is power.'

(Photograph omitted)