The Royal Pardon Campaign
THE BIRTH OF THE METRIC MARTYRS
On 4th July 2000 two Trading Standards Officers accompanied by two Police Officers marched into Steve Thoburn’s busy market stall in the north-east city of Sunderland.
He was threatened with arrest if he did not hand over his three sets of imperial scales. This event followed an undercover ‘consumer protection exercise’ earlier that day which confirmed that he was selling bananas by the pound on imperial scales.
The test purchase was made by an undercover Sunderland City Council Consumer Protection Officer earlier that day.
Shocked and stunned, Steve and his wife Leigh reflected on the day’s events.
The next day Neil Herron got the phone call.
He was a market trader, a fishmonger and had recently highlighted in the local press that the enforced metrication regulations were oppressive and did not have public support.
"Neil, they've taken my scales. Can you help?"
Neil turned up at Steve’s shop.
An hour later there were reporters, photographers and satellite trucks at the back of the pitch.
On the 5th July the ‘Metric Martyrs’ were born. Newspapers dubbed the group us the "metric martyrs" after Chris Howell, then weights and measures spokesman for the Institute of Trading Standards Administration (today the Trading Standards Institute), said that they could martyr themselves if they wanted to.
Funnily enough, the Government didn’t see the irony of the Prime Minister announcing the birth weight of little Leo as 6lb 12oz while threatening traders with prosecution for using imperial measures.
CLEARING UP MISCONCEPTIONS
Steve Thoburn was not ‘anti-metric’ as some have tried to imply. He
dual-priced showing both imperial and metric. However, it was a criminal offence to have a sign with imperial only or with imperial more prominent than metric.
He also had metric scales and would serve anyone by the kilogramme should they so wish.
The simple fact was that his customers preferred and understood imperial measures.
His ‘crime’ was using scales which weighed only in imperial and the imperial scales had been ‘de-stamped’ by a Trading Standards Officer on a previous visit.
The court cases and campaign which followed would shine a light quite brightly on ‘Who Governs Britain’ with Steven Thoburn becoming a reluctant hero and ending up the most famous greengrocer in the world.
THE LEGAL CASES
The initial Sunderland Court Case attracted global media attention and referred to by District Judge Bruce Morgan as ‘the most famous bunch of bananas in legal history.’
The Morgan Judgment highlighted at the time, and set out in the very clearest terms, Britain’s relationship with the European Union.
Indeed, District Judge Morgan’s words that, ‘this country quite voluntarily surrendered the once seemingly immortal concept of sovereignty of Parliament and legislative freedom by membership of the European Union,’ made banner headlines not just in the UK but around the world.
The case was heard over three days and commanded many column inches and airtime with many visitors and supporters turning up to the court and the debate raged on radio, tv and in print.
The Metric Martyrs’ Campaign, intent on highlighting the absurdity and hypocrisy of the prosecution invited Shadow Trade and Industry Minister Alan Duncan to Sunderland and then took him to lunch.
The shot (left) made the papers with the Shadow Minister and Steve Thoburn in McDonalds eating a Quarter Pounder with not a Trading Standards Officer in sight to charge McDonalds for using imperial measures.
Steve Thoburn was found guilty of two offences and given a six-month conditional discharge.
In April 2001 the decision was made to appeal the Magistrates’ Court decision and the ‘Thoburn’ case as it became known consolidated those of four other traders to take the case to the Court of Appeal. The British public showed their support by getting squarely behind the campaign.
Hackney greengrocer Colin Hunt was convicted in 2001 of six offences under the Price Marking Order 1999 for failing to display a unit price per kilogram. His customers from the Afro-Caribbean, Chinese and Turkish communities stood firmly behind him in support.
John Dove & Julian Harman
John Dove (left) was a Cornish fishmonger and Julian Harman (right) had been convicted in 2001 at Bodmin Magistrates Court for displaying prices in imperial. One of Julian’s heinous crimes was to display a sign stating ‘Brussels Sprouts 39p per lb’ contrary to the 1999 Price Marking Orders and a criminal act.
The final martyr to join was Peter Collins who had been refused a street traders licence for failure to buy metric scales although was not convicted of any criminal offence. Peter Collins appealed to a Magistrates' court to have limits on his street trading licence removed. The argument taken in the Court of Appeal was an Article 10 ECHR point.
The Court of Appeal
In November 2001 the consolidated case was taken to the Court of Appeal, the decision of Lord Justice Laws putting ‘Thoburn’ at the heart of the constitutional debate and discussions around Parliamentary sovereignty.Defeat for the Metric Martyrs came again when the judgment was handed down on 18th February 2002 and the national and international press covered the decision comprehensively. The Sun newspaper ran with the headlines ‘Surrender – pound of bananas banned as our judges cave in to Europe.’The Thoburn decision can be seen here.
EUROPEAN CAMPAIGNERS OF THE YEAR
HOUSE OF LORDS AND EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
DEFENDING FREEDOM OF CHOICE AND BEER BY THE LITRE
Whilst awaiting the result from the Court of Appeal December 2001 saw the Metric Martyrs in Brussels at the European Voice Awards in the Palais D’Egmont where they walked away with the European Campaigners of the Year Award.
Steve Thoburn won the ITV ‘Man of the Year Award’ leaving David Beckham a long way behind in second place.
Appeals to the House of Lords in 2003 and the European Court of Human Rights in 2004 were rejected despite the repeated assertions that this was a constitutionally significant case and impacted our relationship with the European Union.
The Campaign was presented with another Metric Martyr – but this time with an unusual twist. Austrian landlady Andrea Schutz was facing prosecution for selling beer by the litre in her Austrian themed pub in Worcester.
The law requires beer to be sold in imperial measures. Sadly, Andrea did not become the sixth Martyr as the Metric Martyrs’ Campaign intervention forced the authorities to run for the hills and delivered a victory for common sense.
THE DEATH OF STEVE THOBURN
Then tragically and suddenly, shortly after the rejection of the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, Steve Thoburn died on the 14th March 2004 of a massive heart attack. It was days before his 40th birthday.
The funeral itself saw thousands line the streets of Sunderland and pay their tributes … to one of their own. Steve Thoburn had left his mark on the world and a big hole in the lives of people who knew him. His death was reported around the world and tributes and letters of support flooded into the campaign.
Along with Steve’s widow Leigh we continued the fight to clear Steven’s name and the initial call for a Posthumous Pardon came shortly after the European Commission, in 2007, backed down and abandoned its enforced Metrication agenda.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION BACK DOWN
Then in 2007 after a comprehensive consultation on the European Commission abandoned its Enforced Metrication programme.
The Metric Martyrs had helped save pounds and ounces, the mile and the pint.
THE ROYAL PARDON CAMPAIGN 2007
Along with Steve’s widow Leigh the Metric Martyrs’ Campaign continued the fight to clear Steven’s name and the initial call for a Posthumous Pardon came shortly after the European Commission, in 2007, backed down and abandoned its Enforced Metrication agenda. Leigh handed over thousands of signatures to local Sunderland MP Chris Mullin to present to Parliament.
THE FIFTH METRIC MARTYR – JANET DEVERS
Events were overtaken in 2009 by the prosecution of the fifth Metric Martyr Janet Devers by Hackney Council who, despite there having been no prosecutions since 2001 decided to embark on the persecution of another Ridley Road market trader. Janet was the sister of one of the original Metric Martyrs, Colin Hunt.
Whilst convicted of some charges at Magistrates Court, elected to be tried by jury at Crown Court on the others. The prospect of being judged by her peers led to Hackney abandoning the case leaving Janet with a partial victory.
Janet’s case was passionately supported by the British public ensuring the Metric Martyrs’ Campaign could continue the fight and she is added to the list to be pardoned.