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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific