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Retailers under fire over kids' Halloween costumes

Retailers including Marks & Spencer, F&F and Asda have fought back against claims the Halloween costumes they stock put children’s safety at risk.

Online parenting network Channel Mum tested costumes from seven retailers. All passed a ‘brush test’ past a candle, but when they were held above an open flame they went up within seconds.

A red devil costume from F&F fared the worst, catching fire in less than one second. A purple witch costume from M&S took three seconds, while a glitter witch costume from Asda went up in four. Witch costumes from Sainsbury’s Tu and Matalan set alight in five and six seconds respectively.

However, the retailers were quick to point out they meet - and in many cases exceed - the legal requirements for safety. Fancy dress outfits are classed as toys, so the flammability standards are less strict than clothing.

An Asda spokesman said: “The well-being of our customers is our number one priority and when it comes to children’s products we take safety extremely seriously. From Halloween 2015 all our children’s dress-up costumes are tested to the same stringent standards as nightwear and we have also included new swing-tickets to advise parents and guardians on how to enjoy these products safely.”

A spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s said: “We’ve looked at every detail of our children’s dress-up range to improve safety, going over and above what’s required by law. Now we are proud to confirm that all children’s dress-up outfits sold in our stores and online from Halloween 2015 meet both European toy and British nightwear flammability safety standard - the toughest standard that currently exists.”

A spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer said: “Our dress-up costumes meet all the relevant safety regulations and the very high safety standards we set ourselves. Every item is subjected to independent flammability tests under strict laboratory conditions to make sure this is the case.”

A spokesman for Tesco said: “There’s nothing more important to us than the safety of the products we sell. We’ve re-tested all of our fancy dress costumes including the F&F devil costume and can confirm they all meet both the legally-required toy flammability standard and the tougher children’s nightwear test. We won’t be selling costumes that do not meet this stricter regulation.”

David Goodwin, who is responsible for product safety testing at Matalan, said: “Safety is really important to us. We go above and beyond the current regulations, as all of our children’s dress up products (including our Halloween range) pass additional, tougher flammability testing.”

The debate over Halloween costume safety hit the headlines last year after TV presenter Claudia Winkleman’s eight-year-old daughter suffered serious burns when her supermarket witch costume caught fire while she was trick-or-treating.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers already go a step further than what is required in testing children’s costumes according to more stringent nightwear flammability standards and have worked with British Standards to have the existing toy flammability standard reviewed. In addition, we are developing new codes of practice for testing on flammability safety and also safety labelling.”

In September the government asked Trading Standards to carry out spot checks on Halloween costumes to see if they meet safety standards. The investigation could lead to an overhaul of how costumes are classified.

Business secretary Sajid Javid said: “My immediate concern as a father and a minister is that children wearing these fancy dress costumes are safe. It is unacceptable for any costumes to be sold that do not comply with safety standards. That’s why I’ve granted funding to Trading Standards to carry out spot checks as part of a nationwide investigation. Parents should feel confident that any fancy dress they buy meets required standards.”

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