Page last updated at 13:53 GMT, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Shoplift advice sermon priest criticised

Father Tim Jones: "It's an indictment to us that we let people live in this situation"

A priest who advised needy people to shoplift in certain circumstances has been criticised by a retailers' group.

Father Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda in York, said stealing was a "better moral thing to do" than robbery or prostitution.

The British Retail Consortium said shoplifting was wrong but Father Jones said it was sometimes the only option.

The Archdeacon of York said he would be talking to the priest again to ask him to stop making his argument.

The priest's comments were made in a sermon to his congregation on Sunday where he said stealing from large national chains was sometimes the best option for many vulnerable people.

I would have hoped that a vicar of all people would understand that there's a plain principal difference between right and wrong
Richard Dobbs, British Retail Consortium

He said: "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 national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices."

But Mr Dobbs said shoplifting was wrong no matter what the circumstances.

He said: "I would have hoped that a vicar of all people would understand that there's a plain principal difference between right and wrong and stealing is wrong and it's wrong in all circumstances.

"The effect is of course to pile on costs to retailers which ultimately filter through to the prices that are paid by honest customers.

"There's often a big human cost in retail crime which is that staff are often abused or even attacked when they intervene to try and stop it."

'Highly irresponsible'

Speaking on BBC Breakfast earlier, Father Jones defended his remarks and said: "When we, as a society, let our most vulnerable people down so terribly badly, I would rather that people take an 80p can of ravioli rather than turn to some of the most appalling things.

"Burglary causes untold harm and damage to people in a way that taking a can of spaghetti rings from a supermarket doesn't.

"That's not to say that shoplifting is good. Shoplifting is a dreadful thing but sometimes that's all we leave people with."

However the Archdeacon of York, the Venerable Richard Seed, said: "I know what Tim is doing and where he's coming from. But I really don't think that the church can in that sense condone or even support shoplifting because it will often lead somebody into deeper trouble."

Mr Seed said he had already asked Father Jones to stop making his argument but he would now need to talk to him again.

North Yorkshire Police has described the sermon as "highly irresponsible".

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