A judge criticised the prosecution policy of major retailers in shoplifting cases when he noted that the bus fare for the accused to get to court cost more than the value of the stolen item.
“There must be a better way of dealing with this,” said Judge Seamus Hughes in the case of Pat Ward (36 ) of Ballydavitt, Athenry, Co Galway, who was in the District Court this week (September 11 ) to plead guilty to the theft of a €4.62 bottle of cider from Dunnes Stores in Irishtown on June 21.
Despite being told the defendant had not yet arrived in court due to his dependency on public transport, Judge Hughes decided to comment on the case in the meantime.
“It’s their [the retailers’] discretionary policy that I’m questioning. It’s how they [the accused] look. If someone looks destitute, they will prosecute because they probably look likely to re-offend, but if a middle-class person takes a pair of sunglasses ...” said the judge.
Inspector Nicholas Farrell, prosecuting, told the judge he agreed but that all the major retailers had a “zero tolerance” policy towards shoplifting.
“They’re making millions. Their profits are so high they refuse to divulge them, but they’re willing to impinge on the time of the Gardaí and the courts to do this. Maybe the DPP should look for them to make a contribution towards prosecutions like this,” said Judge Hughes.
“Maybe nobody’ll agree with me, or maybe we should contact the manager of Dunnes Stores to hear what I say. Maybe the manager of Dunnes Stores doesn’t read the local papers, but I see the reporters are assiduously recording what I say,” smiled Judge Hughes, before adjourning the case to the afternoon to await the arrival of the defendant.
When the court returned to the case following Ward’s arrival after lunch, his solicitor, Mr Mark Cooney, explained that his client had been drinking on the day, and had gone to buy more drink.
“He had money in his pocket, judge. He just forgot and walked past the checkout,” said Mr Cooney.
The inspector told the court that Ward had no previous conviction for theft, but had received a suspended sentence in February for intoxication and breaching a barring order.
Ward was eventually fined €250.