WORSHIPPERS at one York church got a shock when their parish priest used the last Sunday before Christmas to advocate shoplifting.

Father Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda, broke off from the traditional Nativity story yesterday, and said stealing from large national chains was sometimes the best option many vulnerable people had.

He told the congregation: “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 large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices. I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need.”

He said he offered the advice “with a heavy heart”, and wished society would recognise that bureaucratic ineptitude and systemic delay had created an “invitation and incentive to crime for people struggling to cope”.

Father Jones said society had failed many needy people, and said it was far better that they shoplift than turn to more degrading or violent options such as prostitution, mugging or burglary. He cited an example of an ex-prisoner who had received less than £100, including a crisis loan, in the six weeks since his release.

He said his advice did not contradict the Bible’s eighth commandment, not to steal, saying God’s love for the poor and despised outweighed the property rights of the rich.

He added: “Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift. The observation that shoplifting is the best option that some people are left with is a grim indictment of who we are. “Rather, this is a call for our society no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt.”

He said providing “inadequate or clumsy social support” was “monumental, catastrophic folly”.

Vale of York MP Anne McIntosh, who has campaigned in Parliament for stronger sentences for shoplifters, said there had been an “over-commercialisation” of Christmas, putting more pressure on people to spend, but said: “I cannot condone inciting anyone to commit a criminal offence.”

She said shoplifting was “a crime against the whole local community and society”.

A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “First and foremost, shoplifting is a criminal offence and to justify this course of action under any circumstances is highly irresponsible.

“Turning or returning to crime will only make matters worse, that is a guarantee.”

He said the force recognised that some people found themselves in difficult circumstances but said support was readily available and must be sought.

* Full transcript of the sermon given by Father Tim Jones>>

Clergyman caused a stir over logos

THIS isn’t the first time Father Tim Jones has courted controversy and caused a stir in the retail sector.

In May last year, he walked into Stationery Box in High Ousegate and started throwing items bearing the Playboy logo on to the floor.

He said he was protesting over the use of the porn empire’s logo on products aimed at children.

He said the shop displayed Playboy products alongside Mickey Mouse and Winnie The Pooh stationery. Father Jones encouraged shoppers in the store to sign a petition and staff removed the items from sale, while they reviewed their policy.

• Support is available to people in need, said City of York Council leader Andrew Waller.

“We do provide support, through our own services and also the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, the Credit Union and a whole host of agencies there to help the most vulnerable,” he said.

He said times were tough for many people but said the council was doing all it could to keep people on the right side of the law.