A three-year investigation by Milton Keynes Council’s Trading Standards team into the sale of unsafe car seats has seen a leading baby and children’s retail chain and a distributor ordered to pay out more than £580,000 between them.
The retail chain, Mamas and Papas Ltd, was fined 20,000 and ordered to pay £50,000 in costs to the council. A further £275,000 of profits from the sale of the car seats will be confiscated under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Christine Mitchell, Director of baby and child car seat distributor Jeenay (UK) Ltd, was meanwhile sentenced to imprisonment. She was also made subject to a £236,850 confiscation order.
Milton Keynes said that, during its investigation, the Mamas and Papas branded Mercury model child car seats were tested in a crash simulation with a child-size dummy and found to crack and allow excessive head movement, which could cause head and other injuries to a child.
The seats - said to be suitable for children from birth to four years old - were sold in Argos between January 2013 and April 2016, and have since been recalled.
Representatives from M&P Ltd and Christine Mitchell had both pleaded guilty at earlier hearings to the supply of unsafe car seats, an offence under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005.
Sue Crawley, Head of Trading Standards said: “We spent a lot of time investigating this case and hope the prosecution sends a message to other businesses large and small that Trading Standards takes a hard line on the supply of unsafe and potentially dangerous goods.”
His Honour Judge Rochford is reported to have said during the hearing: “No parent will compromise the safety of their child. They are entitled to expect products they buy to accord with safety regulations. In relation to Mamas and Papas Ltd, a well-known and reputable brand, they can expect the standards to be as high as they can be. Both defendants have let down parents and put children at risk.
“By October 2015 Christine Mitchell was well aware of safety issues and chose not to act upon them properly. She was wholly indifferent to whether seats were safe in terms of the R44 regime but also in terms of the safety of children. She was content for corners to be cut.
“As for M&P they entrusted Christine Mitchell and assumed R44 to be watertight but systems were not in place or operating properly and their failures have led to unsafe products being placed on the market.”
The judge added: “Ceaseless vigilance is to be ensured. The harm caused was to allow 150,000 car seats that did not conform to R44 and therefore not safe on to the market and a risk that they may be involved in accidents. The Courts need to send a message that those responsible for safety carry a high level of responsibility if regulations are breached of which the Courts must treat seriously and punish accordingly.”
A spokesperson for Mamas & Papas said: “Product safety is an absolute priority for Mamas and Papas and we are sorry that on this occasion these car seats did not meet our high-quality standards.
“Once we were made aware, Mamas and Papas took immediate action to rectify the problem by instigating a full recall, improving our policies and procedures and making significant investments in our quality assurance, engineering and compliance teams.”
The spokesperson added: “We also terminated our relationship with our agent Christine Mitchell and the car seat manufacturer, and now only supply car seats from leading brands.
“All affected car seats were withdrawn from sale in 2016 and no injuries were ever reported.
“We have also worked closely with the relevant authorities to resolve this matter.”