In my original post on this issue I wrote “you couldn’t make this stuff up!” And reality goes on to prove I’m right!
The Guardian reported that the CPS was going to prosecute 3 men for “stealing” out-of-date tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese from a skip round the back of a branch of Iceland, after a member of the public told the police he’d seen them climbing over the wall. The Crown Prosecution Service were intent on prosecuting the “thieves” even though Malcolm Walker, the chief executive of Iceland, had asked the CPS not to continue with the case. In a statement, Iceland said “We are currently trying to find out from the Crown Prosecution Service why they believe that it is in the public interest to pursue a case against these three individuals.”
One of the men, freelance web designer Paul May was going to say that he was taking the food because he needed it to eat and does not consider he has done anything illegal or dishonest in removing food destined for landfill from a skip.
This is hardly the first time the CPS have tried to prosecute people for taking out-of-date food from supermarket skips. Many years ago, two of my friends were arrested with chickens they had taken from a Leo’s (now the Co-operative) supermarket bin. They were charged with theft, elected for trial by jury at Crown Court as was their right, and the presiding judge threw out the case, angry that the court’s time was being wasted in such a way.
In this latest case, the CPS originally said there was “significant public interest” in prosecuting the three men caught last year taking tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and Mr Kipling cakes from the dustbins behind a branch of Iceland. But a public furore persuaded them to see sense.
The case would have brought to the public eye the fact that poor members of society have to go through bins of rotten food looking for something to assuage their hunger, in scenes more reminiscent of the 19th century rather than the present day.
The case has prompted new focus on the phenomenon of “skipping” – taking discarded supermarket waste to cook and eat – and reopened the debate over how much supermarket food is still discarded. Several online petitions were launched, calling on the CPS to reconsider its decision to prosecute.
Baljit Ubhey, the chief crown prosecutor for CPS London, said: “This case has been reviewed by a senior lawyer and it has been decided that a prosecution is not required in the public interest.”
He added: “In reconsidering this case, we have had particular regard to the seriousness of the alleged offence and the level of harm done. Both of these factors weigh against a prosecution. Additionally, further representations received today from Iceland Foods have affected our assessment of the public interest in prosecuting.
“We hope this demonstrates our willingness to review decisions and take appropriate and swift action when necessary. The Crown Prosecution Service is committed to bringing the right charges to court when – and only when – it is proper to do so.”
But of course Ubhey’s explanation is a load of crap. As I reported before, the CPS have considered it correct to prosecute hungry poor people for taking out-of-date food from shop waste bins. The CPS originally valued the food “stolen” from Iceland at £33! And they would no doubt have carried on the case if online petitions hadn’t been produced.
All this case demonstrates is that the police and Crown Prosecution Service are happy to oppress the very poorest members of society.
EDIT: Since posting this, a couple of my friends suggested I might like to see the Daily Mail’s take on this story. I don’t usually bother reading the Mail (it makes me so furious sometimes, there have been occasions in the past where I have actually shouted at a copy of the paper) but my friends’ comments intrigued me so I had a peek.
I was just about to type “Unbelievable!” but then I remembered: this is the Mail. The story’s headline reads
A licence to steal? Let off, the ‘freegans’ who raided supermarket bins for £33 of cakes, cheese and mushrooms
The Mail clearly has a problem with “freegans” (their term for the criminals who blatantly steal unwanted garbage out of bins); their angle on the story is horror that such evil crooks are being set free to continue their crime sprees. They mention that 15 million tons of food are being thrown away each year in the UK, Tesco alone generated 28,500 tons of food waste at its stores and distribution centres in the first 6 months of last year alone, but the Mail’s major problem is the fact that people are being “encouraged” to steal by the CPS’s decision to drop the charges.
Interestingly, they also mention that the three men involved (Paul May, Jason Chan and William James) were held in police cells for nineteen hours before being released! I hadn’t seen or heard that anywhere else. It shows how petty and arrogant the police can be, and is another reason why the police do not automatically deserve the respect they think they are due. Basically, the police stink. And to think, I wouldn’t have learnt this particular fact but for the Daily Mail’s website. Keep an eye out for low-flying pigs ha ha!!!