Ministers inch closer to pardon for ‘metric martyrs’ who defied the EU

Ministers have pledged to consider "very carefully" pardons for the "metric martyrs" – five market traders who were convicted for selling their wares in pounds and ounces.

Two decades ago, Steve Thoburn became the first of five to be prosecuted under European Union laws adopted in Britain which meant market traders had to use metric units in their shops.

Thoburn, Colin Hunt and Julian Harman, all greengrocers, and John Dove, a fishmonger, were all convicted in 2001 for selling produce in imperial measurements in defiance of European Union laws. Greengrocer Janet Devers, the fifth "martyr", was convicted in 2008.

On Monday, 21 years after two trading standards officers accompanied by two police officers seized three sets of imperial scales from Thoburn’s stall in Sunderland, their families and supporters are launching the campaign for them to be pardoned.

Neil Herron, a former market trader and a friend of Thoburn, has written to Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, and Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, asking for them to be pardoned.

Ministers have told The Telegraph they will consider the request "very carefully". One said: "We always look at these matters seriously."

Officials at the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy department are also considering how they can repeal some of the legislation under which they were convicted. One insider said: "It is being looked at. It would require primary legislation."

If the laws which banned the sale of products in imperial measurements are repealed , the "martyrs" or their families would have to apply to the Ministry of Justice for a disregard of their convictions.

A recent report for Mr Johnson by the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform, whose chairman is Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader, recommended that the Government should "amend the Weights and Measures Act 1985 to allow traders to use imperial measurements without the equivalent metric measurement".

During the 2019 general election campaign, Mr Johnson pledged to lift the EU’s ban on shops selling produce in imperial measurements, saying: "We will bring back that ancient liberty. I see no reason why people should be prosecuted."

Georgia Thoburn has vowed to clear her father's name

Credit: Charlotte Graham for The Telegraph

In a film for The Telegraph’s website – which you can watch at the top of this article – Georgia Thoburn, Steve Thoburn’s daughter, spoke for the first time on camera on Friday about her father’s conviction.

She said the prosecution of her father, who died in 2004, was "unfinished business" resulting from Britain’s membership of the EU and urged ministers to clear his name, adding: "It’s the final push. We’ve come out of the EU, now I think we’re really ready for it all just to be finalised.

"It’s been going on far too long and my dad doesn’t really need that conviction against his name, does he?"

Mr Herron, who has campaigned for the convicted market traders for two decades, said Thoburn’s case may have helped lead to the Brexit vote in 2016.

He added: "This was the first time that the British public was able to touch and feel something that had come from the EU. This was an ordinary, working-class man of the people who was fighting up for everybody. This was us against the system, us against bureaucracy and it was a fight that was always going to be won in the hearts of the people."

Ms Devers, who was prosecuted by Hackney Council in 2008 for failing to use metric units in her market stall, said the authorities made her life a "misery".

She continued: "Everybody was behind me at the time … Letters, donations and everything. If I can get my pardon I will be very happy, but it’s taken a long time."

Her brother, Colin Hunt, was also convicted by Hackney Council seven years earlier under new metrification laws. Mr Hunt told The Telegraph: "At the time this was going on Tony Blair was prime minister and he just had a baby and he said: ‘Oh, my baby weighs nine pounds!’ I mean, it’s totally ridiculous."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We received Mr Herron’s letter and responded last month." 

A department source said Mr Buckland, the Justice Secretary, had responsibility for recommending a Free Pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to the Queen "where it is impractical to refer the case to an appeals court, and if new evidence comes to light which conclusively proves that no crime was committed or the individual did not commit the offence".

The source added: "The applicant must be technically and morally innocent. This reflects the constitutional position that the courts decide whether or not a person is or is not guilty of an offence, and not the Government."

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