A despairing couple who were arrested for robbing out-of-date food from supermarket bins had to send their starving kids to live with grandparents. Paul and Kerry Barker swiped chicken wings, bread and cheese from a locked Tesco compound at night, however, Paul was shown leniency by a judge who questioned: “How are they supposed to live?”
The couple, who have two children, stated they had been reduced to stealing since their benefits were slashed. Paul, 39, said, “I was starving. We would sometimes go two or three days without food. I just could not take it anymore.”
He praised the kind judge who gave him an unconditional discharge. Kerry, 29, is expected in court on Wednesday, however, maintains she has been told to anticipate the equivalent punishment. The Barkers said today they did not give their children, Mollie-Mae, 22 months, and Jayden Paul, three, any out-of-date food. Although they did get shoplifted food.
Kerry stated, “We were concerned with the food which was out of date that their immune system was not like ours. But we were struggling to feed ourselves.
“We got a £200 loan from a doorstep shark to get us through Christmas but we have to pay back £400.”
Kerry stated their extreme situation was made worse by her benefits being sanctioned. She lost £60 a week in Jobseekers Allowance after missing an interview with the Department for Work and Pensions. Kerry stated the letter about the meeting came late at their home in Hetton-le-Hole near Sunderland.
The penalties meant that they were left with £94 a week to live on, £50 in Paul’s income support, plus £44 child benefit. Following rent, bills and repayments to the loan shark, they had as little as £8 a week to support the family-of-four.
Kerry stated, “I could not believe it when they stopped my benefits. It did not leave us with enough to survive.”
Since January, the couple took the decision to remove the children from their home to live with Kerry’s parents Mavis, 63, and Patrick, 65, 100 miles away in Keswick, Cumbria. Paul went to live with them for many weeks to help them settle there.
Kerry had to return to look after their house in Hetton-le-Hole where the parents want the kids to grow up. They can only see their children about twice a month as it is a two-hour drive for their grandparents. Kerry stated, “It was heartbreaking but we felt we had no choice. I speak to them every day on the phone and read them a bedtime story every night.
“It is a horrible situation but this was our choice. We knew they would be fed properly and looked after. Once I get my medication sorted, I’m going to get a job then bring the kids back to be with us.”
Kerry returned to the family house on Bank Holiday Monday to discover the home ransacked, with thieves taking anything of any substance. The lead was taken from the roof, copper pipes removed, the boiler, fridge and cooker taken along with valuables.
Their private landlord is presently working hard on repairs, however, Kerry has been forced to rely on the charity of a neighbour and close friend Annabelle Loughlin, 22, to wash, cook and stay warm at her house, whilst Paul helps care for the children in Cumbria.
“There is no water, electricity or oven to cook food,” said Kerry, who cannot stay with her parents since the Barkers want to settle back in Hetton-le-Hole again once she has found work, and want to keep on their house.
“They smashed up everything, and I will have to start again.”
The mum suffers from pancreatitis and depression which led her to leave her £21,000 a year council administrator position. Her benefits were sanctioned in December. Paul broke his back in an accident when he was a scaffolder eight years ago but too had his benefits decreased following an evaluation decreed he was fit to work.
Their food bank said the family were only permitted one voucher a month, and over Christmas, Paul was reduced to going through the bins at Tesco. He stated he used a plank as a ladder to get over a 10ft wall at the back of the building.
Paul continued, “I was desperate. I had to do something otherwise, we would have had nothing to eat.
“We waited until it was dark and took food which had been thrown out… It’s not what you would call living.”
The pair were caught on CCTV at midnight on January 5 as they swiped the food. They were arrested in March. Kerry stated she was “p***ed off” at being taken to court for stealing from bins. Paul pleaded guilty to stealing however District Judge Roger Elsey did not impose court costs and stated he could not impose a sentence because they are struggling.
The judge continued, “How are they expected to live? It seems to me the appropriate punishment for taking food which is of no value is an absolute discharge.”
Paul, who has not been able to hold down a job owing to his severe back impairment, was dispensed with at Sunderland magistrates court on Tuesday last week. Jeanette Smith, prosecuting, stated while the stolen things were to be thrown out, they were in a protected compound, continuing that Tesco’s policy is not to give away abandoned food.
Angus Westgarth, mitigating, stated: “At the time, they hadn’t had benefits or any money since December. It seems the state has failed them. He is having to duck and dive to feed himself. He is trying to survive however he can.”
Paul, who was forbidden from the store in Hetton following a series of shoplifting convictions, informed the court he previously had a drug problem but was now clean. The court heard Kerry had a sociology degree but gave up her council position after suffering post-natal depression.
The mum, whose benefits have been restored, is still to enter a plea. She has too been charged with theft.
In a statement, Tesco stated, “Working with the charity FareShare, we have already distributed over three million meals of surplus food to people in need.
“We are working on ways to make sure more surplus food is donated in this way.
“It is not safe to take food from bins and that is why we work with charities to redistribute surplus food that is safe to eat to people who need it.”
The DWP stated Kerry was sanctioned for many weeks, continuing, “Mrs Barker is currently in receipt of benefits.”
The Crown Prosecution Service stated, “In considering the public interest in prosecuting the case we took into account previous similar offending, the safety risks in trespassing on commercial properties and the health risk in eating food not deemed fit for consumption by the company that threw it away.
“The mitigating factors in this case, and outlined in court, could not justify dropping a prosecution but could, of course, be reflected in the final penalty considered by the court.”
More than a million people received at least three days’ worth of emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks in the past 12 months.
People are being sanctioned for the various silly reasons, and it’s all gone quite insane, and because of this, are we to accept that people in government are of sound mind and body? It’s crazy to think that they really are, and these are some of the dumb-ass things that the government sanction people for.
One 60-year-old army veteran who volunteers to sell poppies for the Royal British Legion in memory of fallen comrades. The Jobcentre responded, “You’ve applied for dozens of jobs, including the supermarket where you sold the poppies, but without success, you are sanctioned for four weeks.”
You get a job interview. It’s at the same time as your jobcentre appointment, so you reschedule the job centre. You attend your rearranged appointment and then get a letter stating your benefits will be stopped because going to a job interview isn’t a good enough reason to miss an appointment.
Your gran dies during the night. The next morning your spouse calls the job centre and asks if you can come in the next day instead. The centre agrees, and you sign in the next day. Then you get a letter saying that you failed to sign in and would be sanctioned if you don’t reply within seven days. You respond, clarifying the situation. The job centre gives you a six-week sanction for not responding.
You’ve signed in on time, been to interviews and applied for work. Your jobcentre advisor recommends you make a two-line change to your CV, which you do but fail to give the updated CV to the job centre because you weren’t told you had to. You are sanctioned for four weeks.
There’s a term I would use for these people, but of course, I can’t possibly say what I want to say on here, I might get sanctioned for it!