Punters make light of black market: MPs want to regulate car boot sales to stop growth in illegal goods. Steve Boggan talks to some traders and their customers

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The Independent Online
'THEY'RE absolutely illegal but they're great quality and only two quid,' said the man selling the counterfeit cassette tapes. 'I usually do perfume, videos and watches - all fake - but I'm just doing the cassettes today.'

This was 'Price', a 22-year-old entrepreneur on his pitch at yesterday's car boot sale in Baldock, Hertfordshire. People like Price are making politicians fume.

Last week, an all-party group of MPs demanded a crackdown on car boot sales, arguing that many had become a haven for unscrupulous con artists and a black market in stolen and dangerous goods. They want restrictions on who can sell items and compulsory registration of vendors and their transactions.

But what of the salesmen and women, and what of the public? Clearly, they are happy.

'Look, I've tried to get a job but I can't,' Price said. 'This way, I keep everyone happy. I buy from some guy who reproduces the tapes, I clearly mark my stall 'reproductions' and the punters get good music for pounds 2. The only people who aren't happy are the record companies, and they can afford it.

'It's totally illegal. I get caught and fined from time to time but I haven't been to prison yet. That worries me, but I have to make a living.'

The living yesterday in the car park of Baldock Football Club was paltry, but it can be better. In the run up to Christmas, Price took pounds 1,000 at an event in Kent, selling the copyrighted works of Prince, Kim Wilde, Bob Marley, UB40, Elton John, Queen and an array of dance compilations.

Down the road, in the car park of Hitchin Football Club, the living was anything but easy. Only three car boot sellers braved the icy winds.

One, who would not be named, had moved from Baldock because he could not compete with Price. 'I sell second-hand and some new cassettes,' he said. 'I charge reasonable prices, but then that guy comes along with his counterfeits for pounds 2. How can I compete with my legal stuff?'

MPs argue that the complexion of car boot sales has changed. They used to be the British equivalent of American garage sales; clear out the loft and sell your rubbish. But now many traders are moving in, selling new goods and avoiding tax. When the public buy faulty or dangerous goods, they have no redress. But they do not seem to mind.

'As much as anything, it's a pleasant way to spend a morning and I don't need the Government to tell me what I should and should't buy,' said Linda Starling, 41, who was looking for a bargain at Baldock.

Her views were representative of the handful of potential buyers. 'You find bargains and you get a breath of fresh air. The Government should leave well alone.'

(Photograph omitted)

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