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gumboot | 16:11 Wed 23rd Jun 2021 | Law
15 Answers
My local Morrisons employs an outside security firm that provides security guards at the store entrance/exit.
I recently visited the store to buy some goods and was somewhat taken aback when the checkout operator told me to hold on to my receipt as the security guard was randomly going through the shopping of customers comparing the goods with what was listed on the receipt.
Like most Morrisons stores, there is a lobby area inside the entrance doors before one enters the store itself. At the entrance of the store itself there are the usual electronic detectors which are activated should someone leave with an item that has not had the tag removed.
However, the security guards are stationed on the store side of the electronic barriers so they are going through customers shopping before the customer goes through the electronic barriers with which means that they cannot be acting on suspicion of shoplifting.
Is this legal? Are random searches like this OK when the customer is still within the store? If they have good reason to stop a potential shoplifter, why not stop them the lobby side of the barrier or outside the store?
The other day I witnessed a lady activating the barrier alarms when she walked into the store. The security guard promptly approached her and asked her to empty her handbag on the customer service desk to establish the reason. The guard was satisfied after checking her stuff and she was allowed to continue into the store. I was aghast at the matter and personally, I would have promptly walked out.
What is going on these days with policies like this?


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I haven't seen anything like that at our Morrisons - yet. There is a security guard but he seems to just be watching out for non mask wearers.
That's routine at Costco and always has been so it must be legal. I wouldn't be turning out my bag for some jobsworth security guard on my entry to the store though.
Do they have self service tills. Maybe people are not scanning all their items
I dunno about "these days" as sj says they have been doing it at Costco for as long as I can remember (25 years at least)
Store security guards have no more powers than any other member of the public. If they seek to detain you they must do so in the form of a “citizen’s arrest.” In order to do this lawfully they must have either seen an offence committed or have “reasonable grounds” for suspecting an offence has been committed. This is covered by Section 24A of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act:

24A Arrest without warrant: other persons

(1) A person other than a constable may arrest without a warrant—

(a) anyone who is in the act of committing an indictable offence;

(b) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an indictable offence.

So stopping people at random is not lawful. The person stopped is entitled to ask on what grounds he is being stopped (and only either (a) or (b) above will fit the bill). If he is told it is being done at random he is entitled to simply walk away and any attempt to detain him will be unlawful. To be lawful the arrest also has to be made in the belief that it would not be practical for a police officer to make an arrest before the suspect absconds and also that the arrest was necessary to (among other things) prevent loss or damage to property. A security guard cannot search the property or person of a detainee without their consent, even if they have been detained lawfully. That must wait for the arrival of a police officer.

If Costco have been conducting random stops for 25 years I’m surprised they’ve got away with it. Although their powers are somewhat broader (and are not confined to indictable offences) even a police officer cannot stop and search a person unless he has reasonable grounds to do so (hence the controversy over “stop and search”).

//…they are going through customers shopping before the customer goes through the electronic barriers with which means that they cannot be acting on suspicion of shoplifting.//

This is somewhat of an “Old Wives’” tale. If a shoplifter is seen concealing goods that he has not paid for and heads for the exit, it is not necessary for him to have left the premises or crossed the electronic barrier line for the theft to be made out. If the security guard is content that his intention was to leave the store without paying, that is good enough.
//If Costco have been conducting random stops for 25 years I’m surprised they’ve got away with it.//

Stops aren't random. Shopping at Costco warehouses requires an annual subscription for membership. Membership T&Cs include that to ensure all members are correctly charged for the merchandise purchased, ALL receipts and merchandise will be inspected as you leave the warehouse. Costco also reserves the right to inspect any container, backpack, briefcase, etc., upon entering or leaving the warehouse.
It's an everyday occurence in Australia as I saw a couple of times when there on holiday. It seemed to be older customers who were selected but anyway complied without complaint.

Of course it could be genetic in their case, transportation and all that. :-)
So long as they inspect the goods and receipts of every customer they are not random. If they only inspect a proportion then they are random and they are using their T&Cs to legitimise a practice which would otherwise be unlawful. Of course the test would come if a customer refuses to have his goods inspected. The person stopping them has no power to prevent them leaving the store unless they have grounds to suspect they have committed an offence. Must say it sounds a very odd condition of membership.
^So how does that equate with G4S performing random tests on airport passengers which they are perfectly entitled to do.
*checks* (not tests)
"Of course the test would come if a customer refuses to have his goods inspected."
i would guess membership would be withdrawn in that case
//^So how does that equate with G4S performing random tests on airport passengers which they are perfectly entitled to do.//

It's done with your consent. You can refuse to give that consent and you would simply not be permitted to travel. As well as that, the checks are not random as they are performed on all passengers. It isn't the same thing at all.

Nobody - not even a police officer - has the right to use force to stop you (in effect arrest you) when leaving a shop unless they have reasonable grounds to suspect you have committed an offence. Stopping people at random as described by the OP is simply unlawful and someone stopped in that way can simply walk away unless they are given details of those reasonable grounds.

//i would guess membership would be withdrawn in that case//

Which begs the question how would they find out who you were? Failing to comply with Costco's T&Cs is not grounds for arrest and you can simply walk away. And from the attitude of the Company (effectively treating all its customers as potential thieves) having your membership withdrawn would do you a favour.
well there are A LOT of people who wouldnt agree with you about that NJ - every time ive been there a receipt/goods check is performed on everyone, and it's always busy. It's one of the "freedoms" you give up in exchange for membership. It would be very easy to find out who you were - for one your membership number is on the receuipt, but in the event you were to pocket it and run, i presume they would just get the CCTV and link you to your transaction on the till and time. You are unable to get in without your membership card, and unable to make a purchase without it
i also presume that checking goods against the receipt in this way is a way of keeping instore theft lower, meaning cheaper prices. Which is what people who shop there are looking for
I had an issue in Tesco, I used the self service checkout, I purchased alcohol, so obviously it needed authorisation by a member of staff, the product was also tagged, after the member of staff authorised the sale she told me to scan all the items through & she would remove the security tag, the member of staff stood next to me while I completed the transaction and she moved to the side of me & removed the tag, she then asked to see my receipt before she would give me the alcohol. I said to her that she had been stood next to me throughout and watched me scan my products, unfortunately she was having none of it & told me I could not have the alcohol until I showed my receipt. I returned all the products and had a refund. I haven't been in a Tesco since.

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