Police step in to shopping centre row after soldier refused cigarettes 'because he was wearing military uniform'
Duane Fahy, 27, who serves with 1st Battalion, the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, said the staff member told him that he believed it was illegal to sell tobacco to people in military uniform.
Mr Fahy, from Leigh, Wigan, was on a break from a recruitment day with his regiment in St Helens, Merseyside, when he popped into Alpha News in the Hardshaw Centre shopping complex to buy a 20 pack of Lambert and Butler cigarettes with a soldier friend.
He said: “My colleague and I were both in uniform and when I asked for cigarettes, he refused to serve me. I was taken aback and a bit confused as to why he was so determined not to sell us something as small as a pack of cigarettes. I asked him why and he said it was because we were in military uniform.
“To be honest I was outraged. I’ve never been refused anything just because I’m a soldier, but he was adamant. I didn’t want to make a scene, I’m not like that, so we just left.”
Mr Fahy complained and shoppers rushed to his defence. Several of them staged an impromptu protest and employees are reported to have fielded phone calls complaining of prejudice against a serving soldier.
Shopping centre bosses tried to calm the row and insisted that the shopkeeper genuinely believed he wasn’t legally allowed to sell tobacco to people in uniform.
Irfan Patel, who works at Alpha News, said Mr Duane and his friends were initially refused because they looked under age, but the shop has now put up a sign apologising on a window. He said the shopkeeper had mistakenly believed he could refuse to serve tobacco to people in uniform.
Mr Patel said when he came in to work at the shop at about 8am he found about 30 protestors outside.
He said: “A couple were aggressive with me. I’ve had about 20 phone calls from people saying racist abuse. The people outside keep calling me racist, but when I try to explain they just won’t listen.
“They had been trying to stop people coming into the shop but the police stopped them from doing that. It’s definitely affected business.”
Mr Fahy posted a photo of the shop on Facebook, which was shared more than 7,000 times before he deleted it. He wrote on his Facebook page: “People I have no choice but to delete my post about me not being served at the shop due to racial and discriminating comments.”
Army bosses branded the newsagent’s actions ‘very disappointing’.
A spokesman said: “The Army is aware of an incident in which it appears two of our soldiers were refused service in a newsagent due to them being in uniform. This is very disappointing and not representative of the huge amount of public support the armed services continue to be given by the general public.”
Shopping centre owners London and Cambridge Properties said: “We believe this was a genuine error and not the result of any form of discrimination.
“We have been advised that the shopkeeper intends to extend a full apology.”