Humiliated by wrongful accusation of shoplifting

As one man is wrongly accused of shoplifting, we reveal your rights if the same thing happens to you

Closeup of woman with shopping cart.

Derek Greenhalgh, a 66-year-old Army Veteran, has spoken out after being wrongly accused of shoplifting from his local Asda - in front of a packed shop. He went to a Blackpool store on New Year's Eve, and was accosted by the manager. He told Greenhalgh that he knew his face, accused him of shoplifting, and told him that he was barred from the store.

Greenhalgh told the Daily Mail that he demanded to know who had supposedly barred him, so the manager called over two other members of staff to identify him as a habitual shoplifter. When they couldn't, he dropped the matter. By then, the damage was done, and Greenhalgh said he left the store, humiliated.

He suffers post traumatic stress disorder as a result of his service in the army, and said that the wrongful accusation, and the way it was mishandled, caused him significant distress. Tony Hayes, chief executive of the Veterans' Association UK, told The Sun newspaper: "Derek suffers from PTSD and this doesn't help - it makes things 10 times worse. Something that makes you or I angry, can make him become anxious and frightened. It's an absolute disgrace. It has totally devastated him and humiliated him." It added that Greenhalgh was considering legal action against the store.

Asda said in a statement: "We have the greatest respect for our armed service personnel and are privileged to count many ex-servicemen and women as Asda colleagues." It added: "We are very sorry for the distress this has caused and have been in touch with Mr Greenhalgh to apologise for this case of mistaken identity. We have also contacted the Veterans' Association UK to explain what happened."

Your rights when accused

During the economic downturn there has been a surge in shoplifting. The Global Retail Theft Barometer has put the total loss at £1.224 billion - which makes up a third of all retail crime, and puts real pressure on retailers' profits.

It means that stores are keen to crack down on shoplifting, and will be alert to any unusual activity, or anyone they suspect of being a shoplifter. In many cases their suspicions are unfounded, so if you find yourself wrongly accused of having taken something, it's worth knowing where you stand legally.

If you are approached by security and they ask you if they can check your bags, you don't have to oblige. If you refuse, there's a chance this will escalate the situation and the police may be called, so it may be worth letting them see anyway, but if you don't want security to pry through your belongings, you can say no.

Your best defence for any accusation is the receipt of the item you have just purchased. It's why it's so important to take the receipt and then keep it handy until you are at least in the car park. That way if there are any issues, you can address them quickly and get on with your day.

If you have lost your receipt, or have made a genuine mistake, you can ask for them to view the CCTV footage, to assess for themselves whether you have taken anything you haven't paid for - and if it was deliberate.

Throughout all of this, you have the right to ask for this business not be conducted in the middle of the store. It's in their best interests not to make a fuss in a public place anyway, so if any questions arise, asking to finish the discussion in the office is likely to be met with a positive response.

The final piece of advice throughout it all is to try to stay calm if at all possible. These misunderstandings happen all the time, and although it feels very personal, it's really not intended in that way. If you can keep your cool, produce your receipt, and explain things carefully, you'll be out of the store in no time.

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