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Criminal law: Celebrity chef hit with shoplifting charge

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Celebrity chef Anthony Worrall Thompson escaped with a caution after being arrested for theft at a Tesco Supermarket in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. The 60-year-old was arrested in the store, after conducting five separate shoplifting episodes in 16 days over the Christmas period.

The I'm-a-Celebrity-Get-Me-Out-of-Here star was stopped by security guards in the store last Friday after being filmed smuggling cheese and wine into his shopping bags whilst at the self-service check out.

Shoplifting is a criminal offence, punishable under the Theft Act 1968, and carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison.

Due to the relatively low value of the goods, and the nature of the offences, Mr Worrall Thompson escaped a court appearance, and instead was issued with a caution by police which covered all five incidences. A caution is only available in circumstances in which the accused admits the crime. A caution does not lead to a criminal record in and of itself but it does remain on police files.

The chef is thought to have fallen on hard times in recent years as the recession has hit his restaurant businesses particularly hard.

Shoplifting is often driven by hunger or poverty but in some cases shoplifters feel a compulsion to steal, driven by the thrill of the act and the risk of getting caught. This psychological condition is known as kleptomania, and the frequency of thefts in this instance might perhaps point to this kind of diagnosis in the case of Mr Worrall Thompson, although it could also be argued that it was Christmas and the time of year when lots of money can be spent on expensive luxury items such as cheese and wine.

According to one recent report, cheese is in fact the most shoplifted item, with some 4% of all cheese stocked on UK shelves ending up leaving the store without being paid for. Britain is Europe's shoplifting capital, with losses for major retailers topping £5bn last year.

"Shoplifting hurts businesses and creates a climate of fear," said former Tesco Chief Executive Sir Terry Leahy when asked about the matter in 2006.

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If he re-offends he will not be eligible for a further caution, including if more instances come to light.