Daughter pays tribute to 'hero' dad whose bunch of bananas led to Brexit


Georgia on the Metric Martyr campaign with her mam and dad at 10 Downing Street

Georgia, aged four, on the Metric Martyr campaign with her parents outside 10 Downing Street (Image: Georgia Thoburn)

Steven Thoburn, a greengrocer, refused to convert from traditional pounds and ounces to Euro-approved metric measures and became the first British trader to be prosecuted under such regulations 20 years ago. The market trader was snagged when an undercover police officer bought a bunch of Steven’s bananas which he weighed on the illegal scales, reports Chronicle Live.

Mr Thoburn denied the charge but, after he was convicted, the judge described the case as “the most famous bunch of bananas in legal history”. The ruling meant EU law could take prededence over UK legislation. The greengrocer was dubbed the first Metric Martyr as a result, in the groundbreaking case on April 9, 2001.

Recalling the case, his daughter Georgia Thoburn praised her father.

“My dad was just an ordinary market trader who became an extraordinary, reluctant hero. My mam was his rock and supported him all the way despite the initial concerns,” she said.

Georgia was only four when the political storm erupted but she still has vivid memories.

“I can remember travelling on the train to London with my Mam and Dad to present the petition to Number 10,” she added.

“It would be a few years before I really understood about the campaign and how important it really was, the role it played and its position in history.

“It was just ‘normal’ that my Dad was the Metric Martyr and everyone in school, and all my friends and teachers would say ‘your Dad’s the Metric Martyr,’ and it was just something that was accepted as though it wasn’t a big thing.”

  

Steven Thoburn

Steven Thoburn (right) is pictured with a friend at his market stall (Image: NCJ MEDIA)

My dad was just an ordinary market trader who became an extraordinary, reluctant hero. My mam was his rock and supported him all the way despite the initial concerns

Georgia Thoburn, Steven’s daughter

Mr Thoburn, from Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, died aged just 39 after a heart attack in 2004, just three years after his conviction.

He left a widow, Leigh, their young children Georgia and Jay and a son Rhys from a previous relationship. Leigh also passed away in 2017 aged 45.

Asked how the case affected the family, 24-year-old Georgia said: “I was too young to really notice or understand what was going on and the historic coverage shows that both my mam and dad were under a lot of stress during the early days of the case but they were solid and determined.

“Whilst my mam may have had doubts in the early days she wholeheartedly supported and backed my dad whose stance was simple.

“He wanted to continue to serve his customers the way that they wanted to be served and he would continue to fight for that freedom.

“He was our hero regardless but looking back, both him and my mam were devoted to our family and dedicated to doing the right thing.

“He died on the day of my seventh birthday party and to say that we were all devastated is the biggest understatement. It was a complete shock for everyone.”

Georgia Thoburn

Georgia, a nursing student, paid tribute to her father (Image: Georgia Thoburn)

Steven Thoburn funeral

Mr Thoburn’s funeral happened in Sunderland in 2004 (Image: NCJ MEDIA)

Speaking in tribute to both her parents, Georgia added: “We all miss them terribly and there isn’t a day goes by when they’re not in our thoughts.

“My memories are of two extremely hard-working people who were devoted to each other and to their family.

“I loved them and what they did for me and Jay when we were young. It is also where I get my work ethic from – my dad was up and out for work at 2am, six days a week and my Mam supported him and often worked on the stall and in the shop.

 Georgia, a nursing student, said she had particularly fond memories of going to work with her dad on the market stall.

“He was well liked by all the traders and it was extremely lucrative if I’d lost a tooth and they’d all give me a couple of pounds,” she said.

“I also loved going to the stall on the market and even when I was four he’d have me ‘selling’ to the customers, reciting a song about him needing sales because he had holes in his socks and he wore his brother’s shoes.

“There was also a day where I was out of the front of the market with a barrow full of strawberries to sell. Again, I must have only been four or five but just loved being there with him.

“He also taught me how to peel an orange in my pocket with one hand, something I can still do today.

“When my Dad passed away my Mam stepped into the role of running the business and she too wasn’t frightened of hard work and balanced that with bringing up two small children.”

Steven Thoburn

The greengrocer became the first Metric Martyr (Image: PA)

How the case sparked Brexit

Mr Thoburn’s case hinged on was whether the European law or British law took precedence. He had breached the Weights and Measures Act 1985.

In his ruling in 2001, District Judge Bruce Morgan, made it clear. He said: “So long as this country remains a member of the European Union then the laws of this country are subject to the doctrine of the primacy of community law.”

He continued: “The passing of the (European Communities Act) 1972 meant that European legislation became part of our legislation . . . This country . . .has joined this European club and by so doing has agreed to be bound by the rules and regulations of the club…”

The affect of that decision reverberated down the years until June 23, 2016, and the EU Referendum which saw the UK vote Leave. The first constituency to declare in favour of leave that night was, of course, Sunderland.

But the case proved a strain on Mr Thoburn, who in the lead up court appearance reportedly said: “I wake up at night in a panic and try to work out how we got to this state and how my mates and I could find ourselves persecuted for doing nothing more than selling fruit and veg.”

His appeal in 2002 failed and Steven returned to work but things for him and the country were never the same again.

In 2008, four years after Mr Thoburn’s death, the law was updated to ensure that action against so-called metric martyrs was “proportionate, consistent and in the public and consumer’s interest” and enabled them to escape prosecution.



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