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Shoplifters’ Paradise

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OUR neighbours in the Ribble Valley include a couple who, since they are big Thunderbirds fans, I shall call Virgil and Lady Penelope. Now retired, they were both coppers at a time when the job involved catching criminals and keeping the peace.

In the run-up to Christmas they decided to earn some extra cash by working part-time at one of the local supermarkets. During their induction course Virgil was staggered to see a customer put a bottle of premium vodka under his jacket and walk out – observed by a member of the management team, who did nothing. He explained that the company policy on shoplifting was of non-confrontation, to avoid any unpleasantness or risk of assault on staff.

Virgil stayed on after Christmas although Lady P had to give up with a foot problem. He enjoyed the job but was continually frustrated at the general inefficiency and laziness of cheap-to-employ youngsters and gap-year students who formed the bulk of the staff.

A few weeks ago Virgil was stacking shelves when he noticed the sound of clanking bottles coming from a woman pushing an empty trolley with a heavy coat wrapped around the handles. He followed as she left the store and found her and a male partner, still with the trolley, waiting for a taxi. When he invited her to return to the supermarket with him to discuss the matter, she and her companion scarpered, leaving the coat behind. Virgil found its pockets stuffed with cheese, razor blades, wine and spirits.

The goods turned out to have a total value of almost £400, including six bottles of expensive gin. CCTV footage showed a young member of staff eagerly recommending various brands to the thief before she appropriated them.

A colleague in the licensed department thanked Virgil effusively and offered him a crate of beer as a reward. ‘No, thanks,’ he replied. ‘I was just doing my job.’

In the following days Virgil received two public rollickings from management for his actions in violation of company policy. One senior female said she would not have argued his case if the shoplifter had attacked him – hardly likely given that the thief was a woman in her sixties and Virgil a powerfully built ex-cop. He protested that he was no stranger to violent customers, having dealt with rapists and murderers during his police career, but was still told that he was in the wrong. At this point he resigned.

As it happens, the supermarket involved is by far the most expensive in town, no doubt because its law-abiding customers have to subsidise the low-lifes who pillage its shelves without punishment and pass the news on to their chums. Before long they’ll be arriving by the coachload.

Virgil has now started work at a rival store which has a less tolerant approach to pilfering. When he explained why he had left his previous employment, the manager said he had caught the same shoplifter in the act and when detained the indignant tea leaf protested that this never happened at the other shop – ‘they’re much nicer there’.

Cost of living crisis? Not when you’re a Clitheroe criminal.

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to alanj126@yahoo.co.uk

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