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Priest: thou shalt steal from large businesses

Clergyman says that shoplifting from chain stores is acceptable in tough times

It is certainly against the laws of Britain and, most Christians would say, against the laws of God as well.

But according to one Church of England vicar, shoplifting is acceptable – as long as you steal from chain stores.

Father Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda in York, broke off from the traditional Nativity story to say that sometimes shoplifting was the only option for poor families and certainly better than "prostitution, mugging or burglary" as a way of making money.

Mr Jones, who previously worked as a prison chaplain, told his congregation: "My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift. I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither. I would ask that they do not steal from small, family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices. I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need."

He said he offered the advice "with a heavy heart", and wished society would recognise that bureaucratic ineptitude and systemic delay had created an "invitation and incentive to crime for people struggling to cope".

Mr Jones cited an example of an ex-prisoner who had received less than £100, including a crisis loan, in the six weeks since his release.

He said his advice did not contradict the Bible's eighth commandment, not to steal, saying God's love for the poor and despised outweighed the property rights of the rich.

He added: "Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift. "The observation that shoplifting is the best option that some people are left with is a grim indictment of who we are.

"Rather, this is a call for our society no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt."

He said that providing "inadequate or clumsy social support" was "monumental, catastrophic folly".

But the Venerable Richard Seed, Archdeacon of York said shoplifting could never be seen as a last resort.

He said: "The Church of England does not advise anyone to shoplift, or break the law in any way.

"Father Tim Jones is raising important issues about the difficulties people face when benefits are not forthcoming, but shoplifting is not the way to overcome these difficulties. There are many organisations and charities working with people in need, and the Citizens' Advice Bureau is a good first place to call."

Sunday's incident is not the first time the priest has courted controversy.

Last year Mr Jones became so incensed at the sight of Playboy stationery aimed at children for sale, he swept the items off the shelf of his local Stationery Box store and stormed out of the shop with his seven-year-old daughter.

And in 2007 he called a halt to children's yoga classes which were being held in his church hall, claiming the form of exercise has its roots in Hinduism and was a "sham".

Vale of York MP Anne McIntosh, who has campaigned in Parliament for stronger sentences for shoplifters, said there had been an "over-commercialisation" of Christmas, putting more pressure on people to spend, but said: "I cannot condone inciting anyone to commit a criminal offence." She said shoplifting was "a crime against the whole local community and society".

A North Yorkshire police spokesman said: "First and foremost, shoplifting is a criminal offence and to justify this course of action under any circumstances is highly irresponsible.

"Turning or returning to crime will only make matters worse, that is a guarantee."

He said the police force recognised that some people found themselves in difficult circumstances but said support was readily available and must be sought.