Harper-Lee's Law

Stoke Sentinel

Harper-Lee Fanthorpe's death was a tragedy waiting to happen. In homes all around the UK button batteries sit inside electronic devices and, most worryingly, they are often found in children’s toys.

When we first heard about Harper-Lee’s death and the circumstances surrounding it we knew something had to be done. While this tragedy had happened to one family in our city, we knew it was waiting to happen to many more families all around the UK and abroad. And our research quickly established the frightening regularity with which children were being injured and, in some cases, killed by them. We approached Stacy-Marie Nicklin, Harper-Lee’s mum, and told her we believed this was a campaign we should work on together. When we ran the harrowing interview with Stacy-Marie the response was immediate and significant. Thousands signed the petition in days, and what was most encouraging was the number of people who responded to say that, after reading the story, they had removed from their homes any items containing button batteries. Bringing wider attention to Stacey-Marie’s agony meant many households, not only in Stoke-on-Trent but across the country, became safer for children in an instant. But there was much more work to do. We needed significant political support, so we organised that Stacey-Marie should meet with her local MP, Jo Gideon. Mrs Gideon immediately recognised how imperative it was that this campaign travelled far and wide. Harper-Lee’s cause was raised in the Commons, and Mrs Gideon took the bold move to resign a position as a junior minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) after it became clear that it would be in conflict with the campaign’s goals. We were able to get major names from industry and retail round the table with medics from the UK and Europe to try to find a way to ensure that children’s lives were not put needlessly at risk. And through developing our understanding of the market, we realised that we needed to shift the focus of the campaign away from outlawing button batteries (there are too many in circulation for that to be effective) to seeking safety warning legislation akin to that passed in relation to cigarette packaging. We set up the Harper-Lee Foundation, of which Marc Waddington, editor of the Sentinel / StokeonTrentLive, is a trustee. We held an event at Westminster in July and received visitors from across the political spectrum, whose support for our legislative aims we are now able to count on. This is a campaign that will continue for as long as necessary, and we are confident that awareness of these dangers is greater now than it ever was before, thanks to the work of the Sentinel and the Foundation. We cannot know for sure, but we are certain that many little lives are safer now than they were before, and some that may have been lost because of button batteries have been saved. For more see www.stokesentinel.co.uk/all-about/harper-lees-law