'How are they expected to live?' Judge slams theft charge for desperate dad who stole out-of-date food from Tesco
Paul Barker, 39, and Kerry Barker, 29, were spotted on CCTV sifting through groceries at the back of a store which were destined for the bin. The couple are down on their luck and say they have virtually no money to look after themselves or their kids. But they found themselves arrested and taken to court after police were called to the shop in Sunderland in January.
Mr Barker told officers the pair were hungry and they knew there would be unwanted food available. But they were both charged with theft and Paul admitted the offence at Sunderland Magistrates Court. Kerry is yet to enter a plea and will appear before magistrates later this month.
District Judge Roger Elsey handed Mr Barker a conditional discharge and refused to impose any financial penalty. He asked the court: "How are they expected to live? It seems to me the appropriate punishment for taking food which is of no value is an absolute discharge. "I clearly can't make any financial order."
Prosecutor, Jeanette Smith, said the pair were seen in the rear compound of the Hetton Road Tesco Express store, Sunderland, removing a pallet of food. She explained that although the items were to be thrown out, they were in a secure compound, adding that Tesco's policy is not to give away discarded food.
Angus Westgarth, defending, said that when the offence occurred the couple had not been given benefits and had no way to fund food. He said: "At the time, they hadn't had benefits or any money since December. It just seems that the state has failed them. They were told they would not get any benefits for a year from December. He is having to duck and dive to feed himself.
"Without a crystal ball I can see that this will continue to happen. He is trying to survive however he can. I think they call this way of living 'freeganism'. They take waste food and consume it. They are managing to live as, I think, Social Services are paying some money for housing. Their children are living with grandparents because of the situation."
It's interesting that the solicitor quoted 'freeganism' which, according to our old friend Wikipedia, is a political movement spawned in West Coast America, whereas I suspect the British variety is rather more about a desperate act borne of being bloody hungry:-
Freeganism is the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded. Freegans and freeganism are often seen as part of a wider anti-consumerist ideology, and freegans often employ a range of alternative living strategies based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.
The word "freegan" is a coinage derived from "free" and "vegan". Freeganism started in the mid-1990s, out of the antiglobalization and environmentalist movements. The movement also has elements of Diggers, an anarchist street theater group based in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the 1960s, that gave away rescued food.