By Liz Stephens
A 25-year-old legal blunder has opened the door for retailers to sell violent video games and 18-rated DVDs to under-age children without fear of prosecution.
Dozens of Crown Prosecution Service cases relating to the Video Recordings Act (VRA) of 1984 have had to be dropped because the Thatcher government failed to notify the European Commission about the law.
The failure to report the existence of the VRA means the legislation is no longer enforceable in the UK - which could mean banned films and pornography could be sold to anyone within the next three months until a new law can be passed.
The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) discovered the loophole during preparatory work for the government's Digital Britain project.
DCMS minister Barbara Follett has written to the industry bodies to inform them the act was "no longer enforceable".
"Our legal advice is that those previously prosecuted will be unable to overturn their prosecution or receive financial recompense," she said.
A spokesperson for the Entertainment Retailers Association said: "This is extraordinary. For 25 years retailers have been faithfully administering the system and now this happens."
Mike Rawlinson, director-general of Elspa, which represents games publishers, said: "I haven't even thought about the potential challenges against the BBFC or the government for the restriction of trade."
Don Foster the Liberal Democrats' media spokesman said: "The Conservative's incompetence when they were in government has made laws designed to prevent video piracy and protect children from harmful DVDs unenforceable and thrown film censorship into chaos.
"This must be a massive embarrassment to the Tories, especially as David Cameron was the special advisor to the Home Secretary in 1993 when the law was amended."
Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt countered the accusations saying it was "outrageous" such an administrative error could go unnoticed for so many years.
"Much of the problem would have been avoided if they had sorted out the classification of video games earlier, as we and many others in the industry have been urging them to do," he added.
Mrs Follett said the government hoped to remedy the "unfortunate situation" as quickly as possible.