Like all mums, she’d discovered that shopping trolleys and prams are mutually exclusive so, like all mums, she stacked her goods atop the pushchair. Then she paid and trotted out.
But as she left she realised that she hadn’t paid for quite everything: a few small items had slipped beneath her baby. Mortified, she scuttled back inside to pay, stopping to apologise and explain to the security guard.
You’d think that would be the end of it, but no: the manager was summoned. “You’re a little white bitch that is going to jail,” the security guard said as they waited.
He was right: the police were called. My friend’s family collected her baby, then she was hauled off and banged into a cell.
“You’re going to spend the night in there, because you’re white,” a policewoman told her. This was 11am. She was bailed at 8pm.
And so the nightmare of court appearances began.
The facts: there was no CCTV footage to show she intended to remove the items without paying. There were three conflicting witness statements – two from security guards and one from the manager, none of whom had seen her furtively thieving – and she’d actually gone back to pay when she realised her mistake. There was no evidence at all that she’d intentionally stolen. Surely, beyond all reasonable doubt, it was an accident. And yet it dragged on…
One day, as she sat in court awaiting a no-show witness, as she watched case after case concluded while hers limped onwards, she asked her lawyer what the hell was happening.
You, she told her, are basically the victim of racism. Or maybe reverse-racism is the correct expression. As a white person accused in court, the whole damned system was determined to make an example of her. This will go on and on, she said.
Costs were by now reaching tens of thousands, and my friend was spending ever-more time away from her baby, away from her studies, away from her job, and so finally – at her lawyer’s recommendation – she changed her plea to “guilty”. She was sentenced to six months, suspended for four years. Justice was undone.