Store detective's account 'differed from videotape'

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The Independent Online
A HARRODS store detective admitted to a jury at Southwark Crown Court yesterday that there were differences between his account of an alleged shoplifting incident and the store's own videotaped record.

Michael Ward, the store detective, denied suggestions by lawyers for John Gomez and Angela Hurst, both accused of shoplifting, that he had 'selected and bagged' a bunch of asparagus which he claimed had been returned to the vegetable counter by Mrs Hurst after she realised she was under surveillance.

Mr Gomez and Mrs Hurst, both of north London, deny the theft of two boxes of liqueur chocolates and a bottle of cognac in Harrods in December last year. Mr Gomez also denies charges of assaulting two store detectives and a uniformed security guard during a scuffle.

Alan Jackson, for the prosecution, said Mrs Hurst had taken the chocolates from a display and put them in a Harrods bag while standing in a till queue. After seeing Mr Ward watching them, she had returned them to the display and then placed a bag containing a bunch of asparagus on the vegetable counter. Another detective allegedly saw Mr Gomez return a bottle of cognac to a display.

Defence lawyers argued that the store detectives were mistaken in detaining the couple but had been forced to make the allegations once they discovered that the couple had receipts for the goods in their possession; the chocolates had been returned because they had been too expensive and Mr Gomez had no contact with any brandy.

The video, played in court, shows Mr Ward leaning across the vegetable counter, while other staff are struggling with Mr Gomez, grabbing vegetables and placing them in a white bag.

Mr Ward initially told the court the asparagus was in the bag when returned to the counter. But after the film was shown and under cross-examination by Nicholas Fridd, for Mr Gomez, he said it was placed separately from the bag and the film recorded him putting it in the bag.

Denying that he had selected the asparagus himself, he said: 'I am wrong, but I am not lying.' He accepted suggestions that the incident had got 'out of control'.

David Gibson-Lee, for Mrs Hurst, asked why the film showed two bottles of brandy being handed to Mr Ward by two other store detectives although only one bottle featured in the charge.

Mr Ward said he could not remember which bottle formed the basis of the charge. Alan Cartner, another store detective, told the court that he could not remember what he had done with the bottle after he saw Mr Gomez return it to the display.

A bottle of brandy in a Harrods bag was produced in court by the Crown, but the judge, Assistant Recorder Peter Leaver, refused to allow it as an exhibit after it was disclosed that it had no evidence tag.

(Photograph omitted)