Judge lets off 'thief' caught taking out-of-date food from Tesco

"How are they expected to live?"

Updated: 
The Barkers with one of their children.

A judge has taken pity on a Sunderland father who was caught taking out-of-date food from a Tesco bin.

Paul Barker, 39 was caught on CCTV earlier this year taking discarded groceries from bins at the Hetton Road Tesco Express store. He and his wife, Kerry, hadn't had any benefits for a month, and had been told they'd get nothing for a year.

Mr Barker was a scaffolder until he fell and broke his back, preventing him from working.

"He is trying to survive however he can," Angus Westgarth, defending, told the court.

"They are managing to live as, I think, Social Services are paying some money for housing. But their children are living with grandparents because of the situation."

And district judge Roger Esley took pity on Mr Barker, saying: ""How are they expected to live?"

He said the stolen food had no value, so it would be impossible to make a financial order. "It seems to me the appropriate punishment for taking food which is of no value is an absolute discharge," he ruled.

Tesco has defended its actions in pursuing a case against the Barkers. It's not safe to take food from bins, it says, adding that the company does work with charities to redistribute surplus food.

Mrs Barker, 29, is due before magistrates this week, charged with the same offence. She has a degree in sociology, but was forced to give up her job at Durham County Council five years ago due to depression. Her benefits were sanctioned because she missed an appointment.

Speaking to the Sunderland Echo, Mr Barker stressed that he hadn't been stealing for profit, but simply because he was hungry.

"You have to be careful with fish, but most out-of-date food you can eat, but things like bread might be slightly harder," he says.

"They should give it to people who need it. But they don't care, it's just money making. It's wrong, it's horrible, it's like not really living at all."

More and more people are going hungry in the UK, according to the Trussell Trust, which oversees food banks across the UK. The number of parcels given out rose by 19% last year, with more than a million people receiving three days' food.

"Despite welcome signs of economic recovery, hunger continues to affect significant numbers of men, women and children in the UK today," says Trussell Trust UK foodbank director Adrian Curtis.

"It's difficult to be sure of the full extent of the problem as Trussell Trust figures don't include people who are helped by other food charities or those who feel too ashamed to seek help."

And, according to Oxford University researchers, the number of people forced to resort to food banks is set to rise under the new Conservative government, doubling in the next two years.

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