Items whose prices totalled $78 ended up costing $600 and a criminal conviction after a shopper was found guilty of stealing them.
Doreen Agatha Thompson, 34, pleaded not guilty and Defence Attorney Lloyd Samson blamed the incident on the confusion that had occurred on a busy Saturday night at Foster’s Food Fair airport store.
After hearing the evidence and Thompson’s own admissions, Magistrate Nova Hall disagreed.
In her judgment she pointed out that there was little dispute of the facts.
Shortly after 7pm Thompson placed her items on the counter for check-out. The cashier bagged them and handed them to Thompson, who placed them in her cart. The cash register showed the total cost of goods as over $5,000, which was an obvious mistake.
A supervisor was called and she voided the transaction. She then instructed Thompson to come to another register, where she rang up the items. The bill was $35.23.
The magistrate identified a security officer as the key witness. He said he had observed the defendant at both registers. She had taken items from the cart and placed them on the counter, while other items remained in the cart covered by supermarket fliers.
This witness said that when Thompson was at the first register, she put the bagged items on top of the hidden items. Then when she went to the second register she handed over only the bagged items.
She then left the store with the cart. When he stopped her, he checked and found the items not paid for.
They totalled $78.50.
Thompson denied stealing and said the whole incident came about accidentally. Her evidence was that her cell phone rang while she was cashing out. She then became confused by the error at the first register and because of her cell phone conversation.
The magistrate said she found it puzzling that Thompson said she did not place all the items on the counter because the cashier was having trouble cashing her. Thompson said she had asked to be informed periodically of how much her bill had reached.
The supervisor who gave evidence said some shoppers do ask for amounts before completion to make sure they have enough money.
The magistrate found it strange that Thompson would make such a request and then not pay attention to the completion of her transaction.
Thompson also said she had expected her bill to be between $70 and $100, but agreed she had paid less than $40.
Finally, the supervisor gave evidence that shoppers do sometimes leave items in their carts. But Thompson did not claim that the items hidden in her cart had been left there by someone else. She said she picked them up. Photos of the items showed them to be somewhat bulky.
The magistrate did not believe that the items were so covered that Thompson did not see them. Neither did she accept that Thompson was so distracted that she forgot about them.
The only inference consistent with the evidence was that Thompson intended to steal, the magistrate concluded.
She imposed a fine of $500 and courts costs of $100. After police photographed the hidden items they were returned to the store.
The offence took place in March 2004. It was scheduled for mention in Summary Court shortly afterwards and summonses were reissued for 21 September 2004. Apparently the matter did not go ahead at that time because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan earlier that month, with consequent disruption of people’s lives.
Summonses were served again in January 2006 and trial took place in August. The magistrate announced her verdict last Wednesday.