A case of cheap vodka at the Bar

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There is a trial taking place at the moment that is believed to be the first of its kind anywhere in the world, in which the defendant is accused of forging bar codes. Here is an extract:

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?

Briggs: Yes.

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?

Briggs: 70p.

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.)

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