Safety first is the name of the game

PUBLISHED: 11:09 23 February 2006 | UPDATED: 09:40 06 May 2010

The Operation Golf team

The Operation Golf team

Comet reporter NICOLA BASTENDORFF goes out on patrol in Stevenage town centre with officers from the emergency services and government departments as part of Operation Golf IMAGINE it is a busy Saturday afternoon. You are shopping and a fire breaks out.

A BB gun which was on sale in the town centre

Comet reporter NICOLA BASTENDORFF goes out on patrol in Stevenage town centre with officers from the emergency services and government departments as part of Operation Golf

IMAGINE it is a busy Saturday afternoon. You are shopping and a fire breaks out. The only way out for you and many other customers is the emergency exit pictured, left.

This is just one of the worrying sights which met fire officers during Operation Golf in Stevenage town centre last Thursday.

Imitation grapes which were confiscated

The purpose of the event was to make retailers aware of the dangers of storing stock and rubbish in front of fire escapes.

Six premises could face formal action as a result of what was found last week. Thirty shops had problems with blocked fire exits.

Station commander Dave Stokes of Stevenage fire station used to check fire escape routes on his own, but when he had started the shops would ring round and exits would be cleared by the time he got to their shop.

This bigger operation means he has police officers with him which he finds empowering.

As well as police, environmental health officers from Stevenage Borough Council, trading standards officers, the Benefits Agency, and Revenue and Customs also took part.

As a result two illegal immigrants were found working and have now been detained, one premises was found not to be VAT-registered and one person was found illegally claiming benefits while working.

Mr Stokes found many retailers guilty of his pet hate which is internal fire doors propped open with door wedges and other items.

He found fire extinguishers which had not been tested within the last year and one was found to be empty.

In one shop the fire exit sign pointed through to the back of the shop and once out the back the next sign pointed out onto the shop floor again (where the fire could be).

Alex Lang from Stevenage Borough Council's environmental department said: "The event did highlight the inexperience of some managers who had no idea of their responsibilities in law with regard to the safety of their staff and general public while on their premises."

Chief Insp Dean Patient visited one shop which legally sells imitation guns.

Just last Monday a 16-year-old boy was arrested after buying a fake gun and pointing it towards people in the town centre so Chief Insp Patient is keen to make sure shops do not sell the items to under 18s.

He also said he would like to see shopkeepers asking themselves if it is morally right to sell such items at all.

The imitation guns weren't seized but imitation grapes were! Trading Standards removed the imitation food from a shop for tests.

The grapes should not be sold because young children could think they are real and put them in their month and choke.

During the operation trading standards also found incorrect labelling of pet food, the sale of suspect fragrance and the sale of counterfeit batteries and mobile phones.

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