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)

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting