A BUSINESSMAN and his teenage son who walked out of Fortnum & Mason with eight bottles of champagne have been found not guilty of theft.
Douglas Vallender had told a court that paying had simply ‘slipped both our minds’. They were stopped a short distance from the London store by security guards.
A jury at Southwark crown court took just 48 minutes yesterday to clear Mr Vallender, 53, from St Ives, Cornwall, and his son Jack, 18, of stealing champagne worth £348. Both men breathed a sigh of relief and mouthed ‘thank you’ as the verdicts were delivered. They were also awarded £2,928 to cover expenses incurred in attending the trial.
The prosecution had described the alleged offence as ‘brazen, thought-out and planned’. The pair had taken a branded Fortnum & Mason bag into the store because they knew the eight bottles would fit inside it and that it was ‘an easy way to steal’, the court had been told. Mr Vallender and his son denied the charges. The property developer said they visited the store in London’s West End about three times a year. He said he regularly buys champagne to hand out as gifts at his holiday lets and as presents for friends.
On the day of the alleged offence in May last year he had been feeling unwell from the side-effects of medicine he takes for high blood pressure. His son, who has just finished A-levels and wants to be a merchant banker, needed to complete an application form.
After being cleared, Mr Vallender said he does not plan to use the store again, adding: ‘It is a shame because I loved giving out Fortnum & Mason products when we had holidaymakers over Christmas and new year. It is a British institution and what we all love.’
Jack said the decision was ‘great’ after the court ordeal, which he described as the worst week of his life.