Clutching a pack of coloured pencils as she went up to a till, 11-year- old Charlotte Howard expected to be on her way with her purchase moments later.
But the schoolgirl left empty handed when she was told she could not buy the pack because it contained a pencil sharpener.
It was only when her mother Alison, went inside to find out what had happened that it became clear the 99p Store cashier was slavishly following company policy on preventing the sale of 'dangerous objects', such as knives and other sharp objects, to under-18s.
Extraordinarily, Mrs Howard was also told she could not leave with the set of 30 pencils - because she might hand them to her daughter. The bizarre incident happened when Charlotte was out near her home in Sudbury, Suffolk, buying items for a school project.
Her mother, a 44-year-old nurse, said: 'Charlotte told me that the woman on the till would not let her have the 99p pack of pencils.
'I went in to see what the problem was and the cashier told me, "I can't sell them to her as she is a child and there is a dangerous object in the pack".
There was this tiny little pencil sharpener, exactly like the ones that Charlotte has been safely using for many years.
'I explained that she was 11 years old and had been using sharpeners for a long time without any problem.
'Then I offered the assistant a pound, saying I wanted to buy the pack myself and thinking that would solve the problem.
'She refused to sell them to me and told me that the reason was that it was obvious I was just going to give them to my daughter.
'She told me that a message had flashed up on her till screen when she scanned the pack, saying that it was not for sale for children. It felt as if I was trying to buy crack cocaine or something really dangerous.'
Mrs Howard and her daughter immediately went to another store where Charlotte was allowed to buy a pencil set and sharpener.
Charlotte, a pupil at Uplands Middle School in Sudbury, said: 'I couldn't understand it. I have been using sharpeners for years without any problem. I have never cut myself.'
A message on the front of the Smart Art pencils pack reads: 'Great for school and home.' The 99p Store chain's commercial director Hussein Lalani said he was 'proud that our processes restricting the sale of certain items to under-18s have been proved to work'.
But he added: 'We will look into the way this particular product is classified.' Last year, the company made headlines after a 15-year- old boy was stopped from buying wine gums in case they contained alcohol.
October 11, 2010