Flower firms risk children's lives in illegal roadside work: Bosses flout the law but Angus Stickler discovers that few county councils care

YOUNG people's lives are being put at risk by employers who flout the law and pay them to work beside busy and dangerous main roads selling flowers and fruit, according to an investigation by the Independent on Sunday and Children in Focus, the magazine of the Children's Society.

Fines are too low to deter the organisers, who can take up to pounds 2,000 a day from stalls. In some areas, councils are unaware of the problem or have no resources to tackle it.

One flower boy died and another suffered head injuries in 1985 in separate road accidents, prompting Hertfordshire County Council to crack down on child employers. Under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, it is illegal for under-16s to work more than two hours on a Sunday. Council by-laws also bar under- 18s from selling goods in the street. Offenders face maximum fines of pounds 400 for each offence but even if reconvicted, say the police, they are unlikely to face jail.

In 1985, Christopher Stephens, 14, died when he slipped and fell under the wheels of a car on the A405 near Watford, yards from the flower stall he helped to run, and Jamie Archibald, 12, suffered head injuries when hit by a car near his stall on the A1 at Hatfield. No action was taken against Christopher's employers but two men from a Watford florist's connected with the other accident admitted five offences. They were each fined pounds 155 with pounds 50 costs.

The same shop still employs children for up to 10 hours a day to sell flowers on main roads leading to the M25: up to 30 young people aged from 15 are believed to be involved in the weekend work. One, suspended from school, said he also worked on Friday afternoons. A girl who said she was 15 was working on a road from the M25 towards Epping, Essex. She was protected only by a hamburger van about 100 yards away and a phone box. If attacked, she said, she would ring her mother in Watford.

One mother accused the florists of preying on hard-up families. Her husband is on a low wage and she allowed her son, 15, to work. 'It gave him pocket money, but it is slave labour. They work from 7am, and sometimes don't come home until nine or 10 at night. The florists are exploiting them.'

The Watford children are paid pounds 20 to sit all day. Their only protection against bad weather is the polythene-covered wooden flower rack. In cold weather they are given portable gas heaters.

One boy of 15 told how he stopped working three weeks ago after the florist refused to pay him for two days' work. 'They said that I was light on the stock.' He claimed that children as young as 12 are employed.

The youngsters are recruited through word of mouth and advertisements in newsagents' windows. They meet at pick-up points on estates around Watford and are taken by lorry to 10 sites off the M25. None of those interviewed knew that they were working illegally or were in danger.

The Automobile Association says that one in eight accidents on trunk roads and motorways are caused by vehicles stopping on hard shoulders.

Records show children have been employed by florists and fruiterers in Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Surrey at least since 1977. Roadside selling is also common in Essex and Kent.

Action taken against the child employers varies considerably. Some, such as Hampshire, give three cautions before prosecuting. Essex gives a verbal warning. Surrey was unaware of any problem, now or in the past, but said it would take action if necessary. There is a history of children selling at Oxfordshire roadsides but there are no records of any prosecutions in the county in the past 14 years.

The Children's Society believes that tough new legislation is needed. Ian Sparks, the society's director, said: 'Operations of this type are exploiting young people's navety.'

The Independent on Sunday and Children in Focus have passed their files to the appropriate authorities.

(Photograph omitted)

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?