UK checkout worker touches nerve with mobile phone rebellion

LONDON (REUTERS) - A British supermarket checkout worker's refusal to serve a customer who was talking on her mobile phone has prompted a lively debate about modern etiquette that reached the highest level of the British government on Thursday.

The customer complained to Sainsbury's supermarket, which apologised. But the checkout worker has enjoyed an outpouring of support on social media, in the press, and from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who declared a "sneaking sympathy" for her.

"I have sat in innumerable meetings where people don't look each other in the eye, they don't appear to be paying attention... they spend their whole time with their nose glued to their hand-held appliance," Mr Clegg told London radio LBC.

"It drives me round the bend," he said.

Mr Clegg's comments appeared to reflect the public mood, with an online poll by the Daily Mail newspaper finding that 84 per cent of respondents believed the employee was right not to serve the customer, Ms Jo Clarke, until she hung up.

"I don't know what she was playing at," Ms Clarke told the Daily Mail. "When did she have the right to give me a lecture on checkout etiquette?"

But a torrent of tweets sided with the unnamed checkout worker. "I'm definitely with the checkout woman on this one... Don't treat humans as if they're robots," said one Twitter user who gave his name as Tom Sutcliffe.

Another, Ms Amber-Rose Thomas, said of the customer: "She deserves a fish-slap."

In a statement, Sainsbury's said: "It's clear that this story has touched a nerve as the weight of discussion and comment indicates. Ms Clarke was unhappy with our service, so we felt it was appropriate to apologise to her."

There was no word on whether the checkout worker at the Sainsbury's branch in south-east London was disciplined by the company over the affair.