Letters: Phoning at the checkout - who is to blame?

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 4 July, 2013

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Jo Clarke got an apology from Sainsbury’s after being  refused service at a checkout while on her mobile phone – yet another milestone along the retreat from civility.

It is Ms Clarke who should apologise to the checkout assistant. It is common courtesy to acknowledge the presence of a human being with whom you come into contact in the course of everyday life. It is rude to act as if the other person were a mere cipher and to give the impression that your own business is of far greater import than the pleasantries involved in living in the human zoo.

Derek Watts, Lewes, East Sussex


Lack of courtesy can prevail “in reverse” at supermarket checkouts. More than once recently, at the small “basket only” tills of my local Waitrose, where I invariably pay in cash, the checkout girl has carried on a conversation with her colleague while she took my money and handed back the change, without uttering a word to me, the supposedly valued customer.

Alan Bunting, Harpenden, Hertfordshire 


Three cheers for the checkout assistant and three boos for Sainsbury’s management. How dare they side with a rude customer against their perfectly reasonable employee?

I have lost count of the times I have asked the person in front of me in the queue to put down their phone while they are being served.

David Thomas, Bowness on Windermere, Cumbria


Phone users become oblivious to the world around them. My worst example was the coffee break at a conference where delegates picked up their phone messages. Three of them were standing side by side at the gents, phones wedged on their left shoulders.  

Thanks to The Independent for raising this debate.

Phil Wood, Westhoughton, Greater Manchester


Sainsbury’s apology on behalf of a staff member who refused to serve a customer while she was on her mobile raises some interesting questions about modern checkout etiquette.

Powerful consumer technology is enabling time-poor consumers to manage their lives in infinitely flexible ways. Through mobile banking, m-commerce and 24-hour customer support, consumers are now able to engage in multiple service experiences at the same time. 

While it is of course imperative that politeness is promoted between customers and workers, it is also important for service staff to recognise the evolving needs of their customers and to manage their experiences in a consistent way.

Ultimately, organisations need to support employees by giving clear guidance and training on how to handle these situations.

Jo Causon, Chief Executive, The Institute of Customer Service, London SE1


Regarding your article (3 July) about the inappropriate use of mobiles, I hope the irony won’t be lost on you that the only method you offered readers to vote on this issue was to scan the page with their portable telephones. It’s clear whose side of the argument you’re on!

If I may “manually” add a voice, “Yes!” – Jo Clarke was rude and inconsiderate and should never have received an apology from Sainsbury’s.

Stephen Clarke, Brighton


One more step towards a police state

Revelations that GCHQ has been monitoring billions of emails worldwide, up to 600 million communications a day, for 18 months under an operation codenamed Tempora, have been described as a “Hollywood nightmare” by the German Justice Minister. GCHQ may not have the resources to read every email they capture, but by electronic screening they can monitor the correspondence of millions of innocent citizens in this country and abroad.

Now a former undercover police officer has revealed that the Metropolitan Police spied on Stephen Lawrence’s family for evidence to discredit them. Whether sanctioned from the top or not, it is clear that elements of both the police and the security services are involved in unlawful spying on innocent people on the off-chance they will catch them doing something illegal.

This country is not yet a police state. Most “stop and search” powers can only be exercised where the police have grounds for reasonable suspicion. They are not legally allowed to stop anyone speculatively, on the off-chance they may be committing an offence.

Yet this is what the security services are effectively doing by monitoring billions of e-mails. They are using the internet for a massive fishing expedition involving millions of innocent people.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, said GCHQ would have been “in breach of the law if it asked for data about UK citizens without the approval of ministers”. It is now obvious that GCHQ has been monitoring the e-mails of millions of people. I believe ministerial approval has to be for intercepting the communications of specific individuals or groups.

Whether GCHQ has been acting with the approval of British ministers, or unlawfully without it, the damage to Britain’s reputation around the world will far outweigh the damage any terrorist has succeeded in doing. It is also likely to fuel even further terrorism against Britain.

Claims that “anyone who hasn’t done anything wrong has nothing to fear” from this mass surveillance are clearly false. If the police and security services can spy on everyone and decide what they are looking for in those e-mails, that would be the basis of a police state.

Any police or security officer who has ordered unlawful activity must be held to account and disciplined or prosecuted.

Julius Marstrand, Cheltenham


US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once asked whom he should ring to speak to Europe. Europe, were it to ring back, might well now ask – who else would be listening?

Will Fyans, London N5


Why do we have to wait for ever at US immigration control? Surely recent revelations about covert surveillance show that they know everything about everyone anyway.

Steven Calrow, Liverpool

Puritanical urge to ban lads’ mags

Hannah Pool’s piece (27 June) uses emotive and sensationalist terms such as “racist” and “sexist” to criticise both “lads’ mags” and those retailers who sell them. What comes later, the more weighty “research”, may or may not prove that such magazines are harmful to society, but that does not mask the puritanical, almost fascist undertones of the campaign to ban them.

There are an awful lot of things more harmful and more worthy of a ban than lads’ mags, and simply outlawing something we don’t like, even if it might have some negative effects on society, has been proven to drive such activities underground and into the hands of criminals and is counter-productive to the aims of campaigners.

Far better to see lads’ mags for what they really are – a recreational activity that serves as a safe, almost laughably soft-core, outlet for the young men who buy them.

John Moore, Northampton

A new model boarding school

Durand Academy has a track record in successful delivery of innovative education projects that raise standards and deliver lasting results (“Gove censured over plan for inner-city boarders in Sussex”, 1 July). The school has invested more than £8m over the last decade to improve choice and opportunity for parents and children.

Innovation in education is never easy. But if no-one pushes the boundaries, we all end up standing still.

This is a new model, but revenue forecasts, capital costs and savings plans for the boarding school have been examined in depth and approved by the school’s financial advisers. The Department for Education has also concluded that Durand’s innovative cost plan is viable – as reflected in the school’s funding agreement with the Secretary of State.

Sir Greg Martin, Executive Head, Durand Academy, London SW9

Chaos spreads in the Middle East

When Blair and Bush dismantled Iraq society without any idea of what to replace it with, it created a domino affect across North Africa and the Middle East. That has left the world helpless as Egypt sleepwalks into the same type of chaotic civil war that is destroying Syria.

When we all celebrated the millennium, little did we know we were entering an era of the most inept politicians this world has ever known.

Brian Christley, Abergele, Conwy

Only connect...

In E M Forster’s “The Machine Stops” (1909), a planet-spanning machine that nobody really understands provides video chat, music, entertainment and everything else people need. Everybody has become flabby and pale, isolated in their own “cell” and never venturing out, despite now “knowing” thousands of other people. Others, as your correspondents have pointed out, may have predicted the technology of the internet. Forster saw the practical results first.

Neil Stewart Nichols, Glasgow


Vera Lustig (letter, 2 July) claims that “circumcision is not illegal”. Any cut through the full thickness of the skin without medical necessity and without the consent of the individual being cut is a wounding in criminal law (Offences Against the Person Act 1861). The current situation is that society tolerates an illegal practice that clearly damages children and the men they will become.

Richard Duncker, London NW1

Labour betrayal

Vaughan Thomas is quite right in saying (Letters, 2 July) that Labour’s failure to challenge Coalition policies stems from its ruthless pursuit of power. Worse, though, is that in doing so it has cynically abandoned its responsibility to its members, its supporters and democracy itself by refusing to operate as an effective and principled parliamentary opposition. 

Kate Francis, Bristol

Hunger games

If the multi-millionaire Lord Freud believes that it is the existence of food banks for the poor that has led to an upsurge in demand for them, he must, by the same token, blame the famine in Ethiopia during the 1980s on Bob Geldof.

Mark Robertson , East Boldon, Tyne & Wear