Couple are cleared of stealing from Harrods

A JUDGE AT Southwark Crown Court yesterday ordered a jury formally to acquit two people of charges of shoplifting and assault after allegations by defence lawyers over inconsistencies in the accounts by two Harrods store detectives of the incident.

Accepting defence submissions to dismiss the charges against John Gomez and Angela Hurst because of the weakness of the prosecution case, Assistant Recorder Peter Leaver said the accounts by the two detectives were, at best, completely wrong or, at worst, amounted to an attempt to falsify matters. It was not safe for a jury to be asked to convict.

Defence lawyers had argued that the prosecution was full of discrepancies, was ill-prepared, that the credibility of witnesses was in doubt and that there were question marks over the reliability of exhibits.

After the first store detective gave evidence, the judge suggested to Alan Johnson, for the prosecution, that he 'consider his position' because of the thinness of the evidence; Mr Johnson said he wanted to continue.

Both Mr Gomez, 53 and his girlfriend, Mrs Hurst, 36, of north London, who have earlier convictions for shoplifting offences, denied the charges of stealing two boxes of chocolate liqueurs and a bottle of brandy, maintaining that they were in Harrods on a legitimate Christmas shopping trip.

Yesterday, they said they were considering legal action against Harrods over the affair. Mr Gomez said: 'This has been a terrible ordeal. We are appalled that Harrods should bring such a case where the inconsistencies in the accounts by the store detectives were so apparent.'

The prosecution claimed that Mrs Hurst had taken the chocolates from a display, put them in a Harrods bag while standing in a till queue but returned them after seeing a store detective, Michael Ward, watching the couple. It was also alleged Mrs Hurst was seen returning a bottle of brandy and a bunch of asparagus to display shelves.

Although both were originally charged with theft of asparagus, the item was later removed from the charge.

A security camera videotape of the event, shown to the jury, appeared to show Mr Ward leaning across the vegetable counter while other staff grappled with Mr Gomez, take a bunch of vegtables and place them in a white bag. Under cross-examination, Mr Ward admitted he had given a different account in his statement to police, but denied lying.

Another store detective, Alan Cartner, who claimed he retrieved the brandy, also rejected defence claims of inconsistencies between his account and the video, but said he could not remember what he had done with the bottle.

Although Mr Ward said the bottle was handed to him by Mr Cartner, the video shows two other detectives handing two bottles to Mr Ward. Counsel for the defence said it was unclear which was the subject of the charge. The store detectives rejected defence suggestions they had made the allegations after discovering the couple had receipts for goods they had.

The judge said charges against Mr Gomez of assaulting the two store detectives and a security guard after they were detained could not proceed once the initial charge of theft was rejected.

A spokesman for Harrods said the store did not wish to comment.

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