1917 Court: Grocers pulled up for breach of potato act

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Four tradesmen were summoned for “Sale of potatoes of the 1917 crop at a price above the maximum prices authorised by Part 3 of the Potatoes’ Order, 1917.”

These were Frank Abbey, greengrocer, 104, Victoria Road, John Bremner, grocer, 119, Dean Road, Edwin Smith, greengrocer, 109, Prospect Road, and Mrs Clara Raper, greengrocer, 1 St Helen’s Square.

The Chief Constable said that under the Order it was enacted that potatoes should not be sold beyond a certain price retail. The latter was regulated by a scale in the schedule. That scale gave a table of buying prices, and the retailer was to sell potatoes at a price regulated by the sum he gave them. There seemed to be a number of dealers in the town who had overlooked that schedule, and had come to the conclusion that they could sell potatoes at a penny a pound, and 1s 2d a stone as a sort of general price. That was not so. In Abbey’s case he had potatoes in his shop marked 1s 2d a stone. When a constable asked the price he gave for them defendant produced a bill showing that he bought two hundred weights for 13s 6d or 6s 9d a hundred weight. According to the schedule they should have been sold at 1s 1d a stone, 6½d a half stone, and a penny a pound. Defendant was therefore, charged a penny a stone above the maximum price. It was not an exorbitant profit.

Defendant sent a letter expressing regret.

He had not a printed form at the time, but had got one since.

In Bremner’s case he had sold at 1s 1½d a stone, having given 6s 9d a hundred weight for them. He had been seen previously and warned as to the existence of the Order.

Defendant told the bench that he had sold some potatoes at 1s 2d when he could have charged 1s 3d. On that he had lost 1s, and by charging 1s 1½d, which he did in ignorance, he gained 5d so that he was 7d out of pocket. He merely pointed that out to show he had not done it intentionally to get an excess profit.

In Smith’s case, defendant admitted selling at the price, but questioned the validity of the summons on the ground that he got his certificate of authority to sell under that order, dated 25th October, while the summons was dated the 19th October, six days before. From the instructions he found in the retail dealer’s application for registration of approval, the retailer would receive not later than the 1st October a certificate of registration as a dealer. He therefore contended that he was not under the Act, a retail dealer when he got the summons.

The clerk said paragraph four of the Order set aside that, it stating that a dealer entitled to be registered should, up to the date of application be considered a dealer.

Defendant accepted the ruling, but said it did not seem quite right that a body having drafted those instructions and that people who were following them to the best of their knowledge should be taken advantage of by something in the Act which was not set forth in the instruction or contravened.

The magistrates, on the advice of the clerk, decided that the case must be dealt with, and the Chief Constable said that defendant was selling the potatoes at 1s 1d a stone. The purchase price was 6s 6d a hundred weight and the selling price should, therefore, have been 1s 0½d.

Defendant said he bought some of the potatoes at 6s 8d, but the man gave him 3s 6d out of ten shillings. He did not ask for it, and he really bought at 10d a stone.

The Chief said a shopkeeper could be prosecuted for keeping accounts which were inaccurate. He contended that the books showed the price was 6s 6d. Defendant said not all the prices were 6s 6d. He added that he never sold a stone without having to carry the potatoes out. He thought they were entitled, under those circumstances, to charge a little more. The Chief: It must not be in the list. Any extra charge for delivery must be separate from the list.

Defendant agreed. The Chief said in that case the profit was 43 per cent.

Mrs Raper had given 6s 6d per hundred-weight, and she ought to have sold at 1s 0½d a stone instead of 1s 1d. She told the bench he would rather have charged a shilling a stone than be summoned. She had understood from a constable that she could sell at that price (1s 1d).

Replying to the Mayor, the Chief said all the defendants had been warned as to the existence of the Order. After retiring, the Mayor said that in similar cases before the court the magistrates gave a warning that any further defendants would be more severely dealt with. That warning did not apply in those cases as the summons had been taken before the warning was given. Hence each would be fined 5s.