Barking & Dagenham Council slams supermarket Asda over customers not wearing face masks

An east London council has written to Asda demanding it do more to force customers to wear masks, accusing the supermarket chain of “creating a public health risk and putting profits before people”.

Barking and Dagenham Council said officers had visited Asda on September 4 and counted 16 customers not wearing masks.

A letter from the council’s legal services department described the shop as a “high risk centre for the spread of coronavirus” and claimed the Barking store’s deputy manager told them only half of visitors wear face coverings.

“It is a cause of significant disappointment that you are allowing breaches of the law within your store,” the council wrote.

“Knowingly allowing of encouraging these breaches could amount to aiding and abetting the commission of a criminal offence.

‘The deputy manager does not feel that they can enforce mask wearing amongst their customers. We understand a policy is actively deployed whereby customers are not challenged. In a store of the size of which you operate, this is unacceptable.

“The effect of your actions is to send a message to customers that it is OK not to wear face coverings.”

A letter is also believed to have gone to budget retailer B&M.

It is thought to be the first time a council has taken steps to demand a supermarket chain enforce face coverings.

A council spokesman said: “These stores are responsible for keeping people safe and by not enforcing they’re creating a public health risk and putting profits before people.

“It’s undermining all the work that we’ve been doing, and all the sacrifices you’ve all been making in the last few months to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

“So our enforcement team have written to them to tell them this is unacceptable and they need to do everything they can to keep their customers and staff safe.”

In England you must wear a face covering in most indoor public places, including public transport, shops and places of worship and retailers should “take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law”, according to the Government.

Those who don’t obey the rules face fines of up to £3,200.

Asda, which runs three large shops in Barking and Dagenham, said it had sent 20,000 face coverings to each store which can be used, free of charge, by customers who either forget to bring their own or cannot purchase disposable masks.

It has also organised extra security guards to encourage customers to wear face coverings as they come in.

A spokesman said: “Government guidance states that retailers should take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law and in all Asda stores we strongly encourage customers to wear a covering. This is done by our security colleagues when they enter the store, by offering packs of masks for sale at the front of every store, through signage and point of sale displays and via our in-house radio station Asda FM.

“We have offered to meet the council at one of our local stores to highlight our Covid safety measures and are awaiting their response.”

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Rachael Burford

Local Democracy Reporter