A POLICE community support officer sobbed in the dock as he was cleared of shoplifting.
Lee Wright was found not guilty at Southampton Magistrates’ Court of stealing football shirts and toy figurines.
The court heard from Rebecca Bridel, who was working as a sales assistant at Sports Direct in Commercial Road and said she had met Mr Wright before when he had come in to deal with minor thefts. She said that at about 9.30am on Saturday, August 3 last year she noticed Mr Wright with four Pompey shirts.
‘He looked like he tried to conceal a shirt,’ she said.
‘The way he lifted the trousers up. The legs draped over the shirts on the stand.’
Mr Wright, 25, was said to be in the store for about half an hour.
Ms Bridel went to get her manager Marilyn Patilla who said she crouched behind a stand so that Mr Wright could not see her, although Mr Wright told the court he could.
‘The Portsmouth shirts he had, he put them into his holdall,’ she said.
Ms Patilla went to stand by the door to wait for Mr Wright, who came up to her and asked why staff were ‘watching him’.
Ms Patilla said: ‘I replied “Why do you think they are watching you?”. He said “I don’t know why they are watching me. I am a police officer”.’
Mr Wright said he was happy for his bag to be looked through, but only if he was detained and a police officer came to search his belongings.
Six Portsmouth shirts were found in the holdall, along with a Real Madrid and Liverpool shirt – all from Sports Direct.
Mr Wright said he was planning to buy them and then sell them on for a small profit on eBay. The value of the shirts was £331.
Three Skylander figurines worth £75 were found in the bag.
Ryan Malo, who was working at a Game store nearby, checked the records and it showed three figurines were missing from the stock, although only two matched those found in holdall.
He could not say exactly when they had gone missing.
Mr Wright said he had bought the figurines at a car boot sale in Chichester and was planning to take them to them to a friend that night who had children.
He told magistrates he normally used a holdall when shopping as he rode a scooter.
Mr Wright said: ‘I did not think I was doing anything wrong. I took the football shirts off the hanger in front of her and passed them into my holdall.’
He said: ‘I have a passion for stopping shoplifting and not committing crime. I love my job.’
He said he did not use a mesh bag from Sports Direct as they are very ‘impractical’.
‘I have used my own bag on a regular basis and never been challenged before,’ he said.
Shane Knight, a friend of Mr Wright, said he saw the figurines on top of the cabinet when he visited Mr Wright’s house the night previously.
Chairman of the bench Michael Lager said they had to be sure beyond all reasonable doubt that Mr Wright had been shoplifting in order to convict.
‘We have come to the conclusion that your actions were somewhat naive in the extreme,’ he said.
‘We are prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt.’
He added: ‘We have placed great emphasis on the fact the four (of the shirts) were tagged. Only one would be required to set off the alarm system.’
Mr Wright, of St Marks Road, Stamshaw, cried as he was told he was free to leave and told the magistrates: ‘Thank you so much.’
An internal investigation is still under way at Hampshire Constabulary to determine whether Mr Wright will get his job back.