Grandmother fined $1,500, electronically tagged for selling goldfish to child

Agence France-Presse

(Photo:  cometstarmoon.)
(Photo: cometstarmoon.)

LONDON — A British grandmother was heavily fined and electronically tagged for selling a goldfish to a child, triggering criticism Wednesday of over-zealous use of animal protection laws.

Pet shop owner Joan Higgins, 66, was fined 1,000 pounds (1,500 dollars, 1,120 euros) also given a dusk-to-dawn curfew for selling an animal to a person under the age of 16, but her 47-year-old son Mark — also ordered to do community service — slammed the ruling as a farce.

The pair were prosecuted after the local council sent a 14-year-old boy to buy a goldfish in a "sting" operation following reports that their shop, Majors Pets, had sold a gerbil to a teenager with learning difficulties.

The shopkeepers sold the fish without asking his age or how the fish would be cared for, prosecutors said.

"I think it's a farce and legal lunacy and I told the council that," said Mark Higgins, cited by the Daily Telegraph, noting that his mother was also given an electronic tag.

"What gets me so cross is that they put my Mum on a tag — she's nearly 70, for goodness sake... You would think they have better things to do with their time and money," he said.

But Trafford Council in northern England defended the decision to prosecute, noting that the gerbil sold to the teenager with learning difficulties — who was also 14 — was put in a cup of coffee.

"The evidence presented for this conviction clearly demonstrates that it is irresponsible to sell animals to those who are not old enough to look after them," said Iain Veitch, the council's head of public protection.

Higgins and her son pleaded guilty at Trafford Magistrates' Court to selling an animal to a person aged under 16. She was ordered to obey a curfew from 6:00 pm to 7:00 am for seven weeks because she is unfit for community service.

Her son, who manages the shop, was fined 750 pounds (1,100 dollars) and ordered to carry out 120 hours of unpaid community work at the end of eight months of legal action Tuesday.

The story was highlighted by a number of British newspapers Wednesday. The Daily Express said it made a "farce" of Britain's legal system, adding in a front-page headline: "Proof Britain really has gone mad.

31 March 2010 — Return to cover.