An issue that I have had to advise on many times over the past few years is wrongful arrest for shoplifting. This sounds alarmist and, on the face of it, would seem totally irrelevant to any honest shopper like you or me. The reality however is very different – a false accusation through error can happen to anyone and is very stressful and traumatic when it does. The retail sector is under financial pressure like never before with profit margins being squeezed as a result of the economic downturn. Shops simply cannot afford to have their goods stolen and, understandably, they are deploying increasingly aggressive security guards to protect their assets. A by-product of this vigorous stance is that innocent people are getting caught up in “the crossfire”. Shoppers who have return unsuitable goods but who have lost their receipt, are an obvious example.
  • If you find yourself in this unfortunate predicament, what should you do when you are accosted by a uniformed overzealous brute with a peaked cap and the muscles of a heavyweight boxer? “Doing a runner” might seem like an attractive option but the security guard would be entitled to use reasonable force to restrain you if he had good grounds for suspicion. It is far better to confront the shop concerned with the facts: (a) demand to speak to someone in authority (b) recount the facts as clearly as you possibly can (c) demand to bring along a third party – a lawyer is ideal but a friend or relative is better than nothing (d) take a note of times, names and contact details (e) refuse to be bullied by being polite but assertive (f) demand sight of any CCTV footage as soon as possible.
  • When you have been released you should record your version of the facts in a letter as soon as possible to someone senior at the organisation concerned. Create a paper trail that allows you to gather your thoughts and create a contemporaneous record of the facts. Being arrested and/or detained is a very serious issue and if the shop concerned had made a grave error they should apologise profusely and compensate you.  Nothing  less should suffice.