1917 court: Grocer’s pickle over sale of ‘inferior’ beans

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A case of some importance to grocers and others, developing round the question as to what kind of beans are comprised in the term ‘haricot beans’, for the purposes of a recent order of the Food Controller, came up when Thomas Stannears, grocer, 41, Aberdeen Walk was summoned for having unlawfully offered to sell by retail beans of the description mentioned in the schedule of the Beans, Peas, and Pulses (Retail Prices) Order, 1917, at a price exceeding that stated in the Order on July 16th.

The Chief Constable said the prices in the schedule of the Order for white haricot beans were 8d per lb up to June 30th, 7d during July, and 6d during August. He had hoped defendant would have been present as he gathered there was some contention that the beans were not white haricot beans. The beans, a sample of which was produced, were of a foreign description known as Rangoon beans. The best white haricot was a longer bean. A sample of these received from defendant was also produced. The whole point was, proceeded the chief constable, and it was a matter which affected a number of grocers and seed merchants locally, there being other cases pending, that these inferior beans, if not technically haricot beans, could be sold at a greater price than the better haricot beans, which he submitted was quite out of all reason.

Special Constable Musham gave evidence as to the purchase of the beans. On July 6th he saw beans in defendant’s shop marked 8d per 1b. He went inside, and asked for half a pound of haricot beans, and asked, “How much do you want?” The reply was: “Four-pence.” Witness pointed out that they should not be 8d a pound, and defendant said, “Yes, they are Rangoon beans marked in the window at 8d.” Witness pointed out to defendant that he had asked for haricot beans.

Inspector Thompson spoke as to interviewing defendant on July 13th, the latter stating that beans such as the special constable got were then being sold at 7d. They were Rangoon beans, not haricot beans. The only haricot beans he had were these he had received as a sample. Witness asked if defendant disputed that Rangoon beans came under the heading of haricot beans in the trade catalogues.

He replied that they were not guaranteed trade catalogues; the people made them themselves.

By the Chief Constable: Witness gathered defendant’s contention was that there was some difference between Rangoon and haricot beans. He said Rangoon beans were of inferior quality and not so good. Witness asked: “Why sell them at a greater price?” and defendant said he thought they sold at 8d during July. He bought them before the Food Controller took them over.

The Chairman regretted defendant was not present. He seemed to have mentioned two defences, viz, that they were not haricot beans and that he thought the price was 8d until the end of July.

The inspector thought the defence was that defendant thought the beans were not scheduled.

The Chief Constable said that he had, of course, to protect the public from being charged excessive prices, but the main point was that he wished to prove that that class of beans came under “haricot beans.” He pointed out that a similar difficulty might be anticipated respecting butter beans, and he produced a notice that Japanese and other butter beans were to be considered as butter beans. The chairman said the bench were satisfied the beans concerned were haricot beans for the purposes of the order, and that a case had been made out.

The chairman said the offence was committed only a few days after the order came into force. Still, it was the business of those who sold those things to make themselves familiar with the orders.

He hoped there would be no other cases or they would have to be dealt with more severely. Under the circumstances the fine was for 5s.