Counsel: Could the defendant tell the court his name?
Briggs: Yes, I could.
Counsel: Then pray do so.
Briggs: My name is John Lilias Briggs.
Counsel: And, on the 14th of July last, did you enter the shop known as Hateways and proceed to the check-out bearing a large bottle of vodka?
Judge: Just a moment.
Counsel: Yes, m'lord?
Judge: Is there really a shop called Hateways?
Counsel: No, m'lud. It is a fictitious name, compounded of elements of Gateway, Safeway and so on, to give the impression of a well-known store without actually naming it.
Judge: Why do you not wish to name it?
Counsel: It is not my wish, m'lud. It is the wish of Sainsbury's to keep its name out of the trial, to avoid being held up to ridicule.
Judge: So Sainsbury's is the store in question, is it?
Counsel: No comment.
Judge: Fair enough. Carry on.
Counsel: So, John Lilias Briggs, on 14 July 1995 you approached the check-out at Hateways bearing a bottle of vodka?
Briggs: I did.
Counsel: The cashier passed the bottle over the bar-code reader?
Briggs: She did.
Counsel: She then said, "70p, please, love", or words to that effect, did she not?
Counsel: What happened next?
Briggs: She then said: "Hold on! A bottle of vodka's got to be more than 70p!" So she called for the supervisor.
Counsel: We shall hear from the supervisor in due course, who will testify that Mr Briggs had affixed a bar code of his own manufacture to the bottle of vodka, designed to read out a low price at the check-out. Mr Briggs is a designer of bar codes by trade, and has devised a scheme whereby he can substitute low-price bar codes for high-price ones. We believe, though we do not yet have the evidence, that Mr Briggs recently bought a car for pounds 13.99.
Judge: If I may interpose here, might I inquire what a bar code is?
Counsel: Jumping Jehosaphat! Well, m'lud, a bar code is an arrangement of black lines and spaces ...
Judge: It's all right, Mr Robertson, I know perfectly well what a bar code is. I was just winding you up.
Counsel: Thank you, m'lud. Now, Mr Briggs, when you were accused by the supervisor of this crime ...
Briggs: What crime?
Counsel: Affixing a false bar code.
Briggs: That is not a crime.
Counsel: You say that it is legal to change the price on an object before buying it?
Briggs: There was no price on the object. Very few items in big shops these days have prices on. If it had no price on it, how could I change it?
Judge: He has a good point there, Mr Robertson.
Counsel: Ah, but the bar code is the same as a price.
Briggs: Not at all. The bar code leads to the read-out of a price, it is true, but that price can be changed at any time by the management of Aztec.
Counsel: Aztec? There is a store called Aztec?
Briggs: No. It is a fictitious name, formed by using elements from the names of stores such as Asda and Tesco.
Counsel: But you do not deny you changed the bar code on the bottle of vodka in an attempt to pay less for it than you would otherwise have done?
Briggs: Don't I?
Counsel: Well, do you?
Briggs: Do I what?
Counsel: Deny it?
Briggs: Deny what?
Counsel: What I just said.
Briggs: What did you say?
Counsel: I can't remember.
Judge: Mr Robertson, why not try asking the defendant a simple question and see how we get on?
Counsel: Yes, m'lud. Mr Briggs, how much do you normally pay for a bottle of vodka?
Counsel: You mean to tell the court you think 70p is the normal price of a bottle of vodka?
Briggs: It is when I buy it.
Counsel: You therefore make an enormous profit whenever you buy vodka.
Briggs: Not at all. It is not cheap to manufacture fake bar codes. It's very expensive. I probably make a net loss on my bar-code transactions.
Counsel: Then why not pay the price marked on the bottle?
Briggs: There is no price marked. I am simply trying to help out Messrs Oddbottoms.
Judge: Is there really a shop called Oddbottoms?
Briggs: No, my lord. It is a fictitious name based on elements of Oddbins and Bottoms Up. (The case continues.)