By Jaya Narain
Buying a goldfish at a pet shop used to be an innocent childhood pleasure.
But today an elderly pet shop owner told how she was entrapped into selling a goldfish to a 14-year-old schoolboy, then warned she could face jail.
She had breached a law introduced in 2006 which bans selling live fish to anyone under 16.
After a prosecution estimated to have cost taxpayers £20,0000, Joan Higgins, 66, a great-grandmother who has never been in trouble before, has been forced to wear a tag on her ankle like common criminal and given a seven-week curfew.
Her son, Mark, 47 was also handed a fine and ordered to carry out 120 hours unpaid work in the community.
Magistrates were today accused of using a hammer to crack a nut in their bid to enforce the animal welfare laws.
The Higgins’ ordeal began when council officials heard the Majors Pet Shop in Sale, Greater Manchester was selling animals to children.
They sent the 14-year-old schoolboy into the shop to carry out a test purchase and Mr Higgins sold the youngster a goldfish without questioning his age or providing any information about the care of the fish.
Mrs Higgins, who has run the pet shop for 28 years, said their eight-month ordeal had left them shocked and traumatised.
The court ruling means she is unable to babysit her great-grandson at his home, attend bingo sessions with her sister and or enjoy a Rod Stewart concert after tickets were bought for her by her TV actor nephew Will Mellor.
Her son said: ‘I think it’s a farce. What gets me so cross is that they put my mum on a tag – she’s nearly 70, for goodness sake.
‘She’s a great grandma so she won’t be able to babysit a new born baby. You would think they have better things to do with their time and money.’
He said: ‘The council sent the 14-year-old into us. It is hard to tell how old a lad is these days. He looked much older than 14.
Mr Higgins added: ‘Mum has been running the shop for 28 years and this is the first time anything like this has ever happened.
“She volunteers for the shows for PDSA (Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals) and donates food for free to them – what has she ever done to anyone?
‘This is what I couldn’t understand. The system is a judicial joke.’
Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 it is illegal to sell pets – including goldfish – to children under the age of 16 years unless they are accompanied by an adult.
The maximum penalty for breaching the law is imprisonment for up to 12 months, or a fine of up to £20,000, or both.
The court heard that Mrs Higgins had possessed a licence to sell animals for many years and had never had any problems before.
The great-grandmother was fined £1,000 and given a community order with a curfew requiring her to stay in the house between 6pm and 7am for the next seven weeks.
Her son, also of Sale, Greater Manchester was fined £750 and ordered to carry out 120 hours’ unpaid work.
Because of the family’s circumstances at the time Mrs Higgins did not have her licence to sell animals removed, but both were told if they ever appeared in court for a similar offence they could face a jail sentence.