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                                         Metric Martyrs Defence Fund

1pm Tuesday 16th March 2004


Steven Thoburn Metric Martyr 1964 - 2004

It is with great sadness that we must report the tragic, sudden death of Steven Thoburn, the nation's most famous greengrocer, at the age of 39.

Steven, known affectionately as the Metric Martyr, became the people's champion for his courage in standing up for his customers' right to buy their fruit and vegetables in imperial measures. He was, however, when asked, the first to point out that he was not anti-metric, he just wished his customers to have the freedom to choose, and he provided scales and pricing accordingly.

However, he became the first person to be charged and prosecuted under the Metrication Regulations for 'selling a pound of bananas.' What was exposed in the court case that followed and subsequent appeals highlighted the fact that laws made by Brussels now had supremacy over British law, but Steve was determined to fight to clear his name. The case was rejected by the European Court of Human Rights a few weeks ago, but Steve vowed to continue the fight declaring, "we may not beat the Government but we will win in the court of the people."

His relentless battle became a symbol for upholding the British way of life.

Steve Thoburn never wished to become a hero but his courage and principled stand made headlines around the world. He called on Neil Herron, a Sunderland fishmonger and friend, to help following seizures of three sets of scales by Police Officers and Trading Standards Officers at his Southwick stall in July 2000. Together, their stand created the ‘Metric Martyrs,’ which has become the most powerful people’s campaigning organisation in modern British history, the two of them winning the European Campaigners of the Year Award in 2002, and Steve being voted Man of the Year in an ITV poll as well as being awarded the Cross of St. George for his patriotic stand.

Steve owned three fruit and veg shops across the city and usually began his day at 3am when he would make his way to the wholesale market to buy produce for his and his two brother’s businesses. A hectic day followed and Steve was always at the heart of the business as he ‘loved the frisk’ with the customers. The cheek and mischievous, sharp wit meant that he was loved by everyone and he was generous to a fault. The salesmen at the wholesale market would say he was the most ruthless buyer, but the savings were always passed on to customers. He would be the first to give to charity and local groups and would refuse no-one.

On Sunday he should have been enjoying a rare day at home, but woke at 5am feeling unwell, and complained to Leigh that he had chest pains. He got up and went downstairs, but said, "Leigh, I am going…" and collapsed. His brother Kevin and Leigh were with him and the ambulance arrived in minutes but all attempts to revive him failed and he died in Leigh’s arms.

He was due to celebrate his 40th birthday on the 26th March and family and friends had organised a surprise party.

Steve and Leigh had two children, Georgia and Jay (2) and another son Rhys (13) from a previous relationship. Steve had arranged a special birthday treat that Sunday for Georgia who was seven the previous day, and the trip in the stretch limousine went ahead,

" because my Daddy made it special for me."

Steve’s wife, Leigh, is being comforted by family including her mother, Hilda, step father Ian and Steven’s brothers, Kevin and Eddie, sister Lillian and many other family members, staff and friends who are all rallying to keep Steven’s business together.

Neil Herron added, " We are all devastated. Steve was a man who lived for his family and was devoted to Leigh and the children. He was a man of principles who took everything in his stride. Everyone who knew Steve loved him. There was nothing hidden. What you saw was what you got. He was one of us. Even journalists and people who met him through the campaign became personal friends. He was an extraordinary ‘ordinary’ man the like of whom are very rare."

Tributes are flooding in from across the city, around the country and around the world from politicians, journalists, celebrities and members of the public.

Tributes, messages and cards can be sent  c/o

Steven Thoburn (Metric Martyr) Defence Fund

48 Frederick Street


SR1 1NF 

Tel. 0191 565 7143

We will and must continue the fight in Steven’s name and become an even bigger and more powerful organisation. He would have expected nothing less.


A Personal Message

"It is impossible at this moment to even find any words which would come close to conveying the emotions we are all feeling.

It is difficult for us all to comprehend this enormous loss and everyone who knew Steven is numb and shell-shocked with total disbelief.

It was an honour to have known and to stand shoulder to shoulder with such a hard-working and courageous, principled man who was absolutely devoted to his wife and children.

The past four years created a very special bond between us that goes beyond words and Steven symbolised the true British spirit of grit and determination and fought passionately for what he truly believed in, and was acutely aware of the responsibility that had, by fate, been bestowed upon him.

He was a true fighter and a man with compassion and unswerving generosity and a spirit rarely seen these days.

His humour and sense of irony touched everyone and at only 39 he should not have been taken from us. It brings home how very, very fragile our existence is.

The world was a richer place for Steven Thoburn and we can learn a great deal from the way he led his life and the example he set.

A light went out today but the flame that is Steve Thoburn will continue to burn in all of us who care as deeply and passionately as he did and in all of us whose lives he touched. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Steven, you will be sadly, sadly missed but will never, ever be forgotten and I will not rest until we have the justice you deserve nor will I forget that promise I made to you when all this began. As your children grow they will be reminded of the example you set and your name will be etched in stone and immortalised to remind future generations that one man can change the course of history.

God bless you, mate. It was a privilege and an honour to call you my friend."

Neil Herron