By Nancy Atkinson-turner
Unfair treatment: Nancy was accused of shoplifting at her local Tesco in Havant, Hampshire
For me, the weekly shop is a slice of calm in the middle of my hectic week. I enjoy ambling through the aisles, with my children Olli, five, and Mili, seven, thinking about what I’m going to cook and trying to get the kids to spell out things from my shopping list.
But not any more. For something happened in Tesco last month that appalled and upset me so much, I’ve changed my shopping habits completely. And it’s something that just as easily could happen to you. In fact, it regularly does if the hordes of people who’ve contacted me since are anything to go by.
It started on Friday, July 29, when I went to do my usual shop in Tesco Extra in Havant, Hampshire. I’ve shopped there for the past three years and I spend around £250 per week. I had the kids with me and I was all set for a relaxing mooch. We chose some toys and then I spent a while smelling shampoos before continuing with my food shop.
After around an hour in the store, I paid for my goods and prepared to leave. But as I ushered the kids towards the travelator, a burly security guard pounced — he clapped his hand on my trolley and started to steer me away from the exit.
‘Come this way, madam,’ he said sternly. When I asked where we were going, all he said was that the store manager wanted to see me. The kids and I did as we were told. We were frog-marched through the store, with no explanation.
I was made to feel stupid every time I asked what was going on. At one point, I jokingly asked if I had won something — was I the billionth customer? I started to feel quite panicky. My heart was racing and as I was helped through some doors to the back of the shop I saw two more men and a rather smug-looking woman waiting. They were waiting for me.
It was at this point I lost my patience. ‘Right, what’s going on?’ I demanded.
Both my children were clinging on to me. ‘We have seen you on CCTV stealing shampoo and putting it in your bag’ I was told by the security manager. I was stunned. ‘Shoplifting? I don’t think so!’ I looked at my daughter, who was in floods of tears asking: ‘Why, Mummy? Why have you stolen something?’
I was ushered into another room, where it was very clearly stated that I had been seen stealing shampoo. I was told they wanted to search my bag. Both kids at this point were crying.
I emptied my bag on the table. I was furious — watching a strange man rummage through your personal belongings is degrading and humiliating. I keep all kinds of slightly embarrassing things in there — tampons, half-eaten brownies, spare knickers. I felt like crying, but could only watch in horror as he poked through my bag.
Too little, too late: Nancy appealed to the store manager and head office for an apology but didn't receive one until she made her ordeal public via her blog
When they had satisfied themselves there was no shampoo, they appeared puzzled. The woman looked annoyed. There was no apology and no concern for my wailing children.
‘But we saw you on CCTV,’ they said, instead of trying to explain to my children that they had been mistaken and that I was not guilty.
By now, my daughter was in floods of tears, visibly shaken and very confused. In her eyes, I was guilty. I was guilty because a man, who looked a lot like a policeman, had said I was. Police don’t lie. That’s what her mummy had told her.
asked to see the CCTV and was refused on the grounds of Data Protection. No form of an apology was made. In fact, the staff looked more disappointed than sorry. It was as if they had been looking forward to exposing me as a thief. They were almost rubbing their hands with glee.
Confused and feeling pretty irate, we left the store. It took me a good hour to calm my very upset children, during which time I became increasingly annoyed at my treatment.
I went into the store feeling great — happy, calm and relaxed — but I left feeling angry, violated, degraded and confused.
When we got home, I decided to call Tesco head office to let them know what had happened and to give them the chance to put it right. At first, they seemed great.
The lady I spoke to was shocked at the way I had been treated. She told me she would deal with my case and would get the store manager to call me.
The whole of bath and bedtime was spent trying to convince Mili I was not guilty — an upsetting task bearing in mind my children had never before questioned my judgment or word.
The next day, my mother-in-law popped in and asked the kids what they had been up to. ‘We had a BBQ at Nanny’s, I drew this picture and then Mummy got caught shoplifting,’ announced Mili. I was mortified.
Lost custom: The mother-of-two now intends to shop elsewhere
When the store manager eventually called me back the next day he did apologise, but to my mind, a half-baked apology from someone who wasn’t even there wasn’t good enough. I told him I wanted a written apology.
Three weeks went by. Nothing came. I was still angry, so decided to write a blog about it. I use the social-networking site Twitter to promote my business — I run a private members’ club and have around 500 followers. I thought if I blogged about my experience and it was read by at best 500 people, the supermarket might take note.
My blog was, in fact, read by 60,000 people in the first 24 hours of going live. I was shocked — I assumed it would only reach a small group. It obviously struck a chord. I think a lot of people dislike the treatment they receive at the hands of big supermarkets, who don’t appear to care about their customers.
A lot of people shared their experiences with me through the blog — many said they were boycotting certain stores already due to similar experiences — and 5,000 people left comments on my site.
Then, the following morning, on Tuesday, August 16, I received a call from Tesco head office. It was a bit awkward — never in a million years had I imagined my blog would cause such a furore.
They were very apologetic and concerned about Mili. They finally sent me the apology they’d been promising for three weeks and also a letter directly to my daughter Mili — along with compensation in the way of a £30 Tesco voucher.
The truth is, although I was happy with the way Tesco dealt with the reaction to my blog, it was cheapened by the fact that I knew they reacted only because 60,000 people had read it and they were scared of the damage to their reputation.
When I was a lone voice, my complaints were ignored. How many more people have experienced my anger and distress, but been ignored because they don’t have an audience?
And how often will it have to happen again before these stores change their ways? Perhaps next time it will be you.
Since writing about my experience, I’ve heard terrible stories of pensioners being marched through shops by burly security guards and innocent children not even allowed to call their parents for help or advice — even though the store is calling in police.
Now, I go to Asda and Aldi because I don’t feel I can show my face in Tesco again. I’m too angry, too embarrassed.
Despite changing stores, my old enjoyment of food shopping has gone — I’m too worried it will happen again to be truly relaxed.
But worst of all, it’s now lonely — the kids no longer want to shop with their mummy because they haven’t yet forgotten what happened.