Clergyman's new commandment - `Thou may steal'

Stealing from the big supermarkets is not a sin, a clergyman has claimed.

The Rev John Papworth (right), 75, told a meeting with police and members of the community this week that he regarded shoplifting from superstores as a "badly needed reallocation of economic resources".

Mr Papworth, who is retired but who helps at services at St Mark's Church, St John's Wood, London, argued that you should not steal from a person. But supermarkets were not people. They were "enemies of civilisation", putting temptation in the way of poorer people. By destroying the corner shop, supermarkets were also helping to destroy communities, creating unemployment and misery.

The Paddington and Marylebone Police Community Consultative Committee was the latest body to receive his alternative view of the commandment "Thou shalt not steal".

But it is a view he has been advocating for some time. He refuses to shop in supermarkets and uses a small journal, the Fourth World Review, to warn of the evils of political and economic "gigantism". He has also written two books, advocating the restoration of community life.

The British Retail Consortium estimates that pounds 450m was spent combating shop crime last year. And supermarkets lost pounds 155m a year through shoplifting.

Mr Papworth was brought up in an orphanage in east London and was ordained in Zambia. In the Sixties, he was jailed alongside the philosopher Bertrand Russell for taking part in marches opposing the nuclear bomb.