Clegg backs Sainsbury’s checkout girl over mobile phone row

Nick Clegg has expressed "sneaking sympathy" for the Sainsbury's checkout girl who refused to serve a customer until she stopped talking on her mobile phone.

Jo Clarke, a 26-year-old property manager, was refused service unless she ended her phone conversation but she won an apology from Sainsbury's, which also gave her free vouchers.

"I strongly suspect I have spoken on the phone in a queue. I like to think I probably wouldn't do that at the front of a check-inqueue," Clegg said during his weekly LBC radio phone-in show.

"If the customer was not responding, then the checkout woman couldn't do her job and she's perfectly well entitled to ask 'well do you want it or not?'

"I have a sneaking sympathy for her. But I understand Sainsbury's have to be on the side of their customers."

The deputy prime minister expressed unease with the way mobile phones were changing the way people communicated with each other in person.

"I have sat in numerous meeting where people don't look each other in the eye, they drop in and out the conversation," he said.

"It drives me round the bend. I have an old fashioned view people are supposed to talk to each other. They don’t. They mumble at each other."

The refusal to serve Clarke sparked a nationwide debate about mobile phone etiquette. Many felt considerable sympathy with the check-out staff, but the customer herself vowed to shop elsewhere.

"When did she have the right to give me a lecture on checkout etiquette?" she asked reporters.

"I won't be shopping there again – I’ll go to Waitrose instead."