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Man who 'ripped covers off non-essential items' in Welsh supermarket prosecuted as policy reviewed

·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A man who allegedly ripped plastic sheeting off “non-essential items” in a Welsh supermarket has been prosecuted, amid a review of the controversial restrictions.

Gwilym Owen, has been charged with criminal damage, public order offences and breaking coronavirus regulations at a branch of Tesco in Bangor on Friday.

North Wales Police said the 28-year-old, from Anglesey, will appear at Caernarfon Magistrates’ Court on 24 November.

Footage shared widely on social media showed a man walking through the supermarket pulling plastic coverings off children’s clothes and shoes.

“Rip the f***ers off, f***ing disgrace,” he could be heard saying in the video, which ended when staff intervened.

A “firebreak” lockdown that came into force in Wales at 6pm on Friday included instructions for some supermarket sections to be “cordoned off or emptied, and closed to the public”.

These include areas selling electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, garden products and dedicated sections for homewares.

Ministers defended the measure by saying it would protect small businesses selling the same products that have been forced to close.

But more than 50,000 people have signed an online petition submitted to the Welsh parliament, or Senedd, calling for the ban to be immediately reversed.

Health minister Vaughan Gething announced a review of the “understanding and clarity” of the policy on Sunday.

He told the Andrew Marr Show: "There's been different application in different parts.

“We all need to step back and remember why the firebreak has been introduced, to recognise that it is hard on lots of people, but we're in a week where we've already seen 61 deaths take place here in Wales.”

On Saturday evening, first minister Mark Drakeford tweeted that ministers would be ”reviewing how the weekend has gone“ with supermarkets and ”making sure that common sense is applied“.

Suggestions by some police forces in England that “non-essential items” or aisles in shops would be regulated were swiftly retracted in the early stages of the UK-wide lockdown that started in March.

The Westminster government clarified at the time that people were not restricted on what they could buy in businesses, such as supermarkets and convenience stores, that were allowed to remain open.

But the ban on selling non-essential items was announced in the Senedd on Thursday after Conservative member Russell George said it was "unfair" to force independent clothing and hardware retailers to shut while similar goods were on sale in major supermarkets.

Under laws in place until 9 November, retail deemed non-essential including clothes shops, furniture stores and car dealerships must close.

Supermarkets have been told they must only sell essential items to discourage people from spending more time than necessary in shops and be fair to retailers who have to shut.

Mr Gething told the BBC the Welsh Government had worked with supermarkets on the ban and discussed which items were affected by it.

"We'll talk to them again on Monday so everyone understands the position we're in to have some clarity,“ Mr Gething said.

Supermarkets in Wales have been told to remove or cordon off ‘non-essential’ itemsPA
Supermarkets in Wales have been told to remove or cordon off ‘non-essential’ itemsPA

“It's also about reducing the opportunity for contacts. That's what we're really trying to do - we're asking people to stay at home to save lives, that really is right back where we are.”

The Welsh Retail Consortium called for the ban to be "dropped quickly and warned it could result in the “safe flow of customers” being undermined due to changes in shop layouts.

Paul Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, asked for the Senedd to be recalled so members can discuss the ban.

He described the popularity of the petition as a sign that people in Wales want the rule "scrapped immediately".

Under the firebreak rules, people can only leave their home for limited reasons, such as to buy food and medicine, provide care or take exercise, and must work from home where possible.

Leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses are closed, along with community centres, libraries and recycling centres, while places of worship are shut other than for funerals or wedding ceremonies.

On Saturday, a further 1,324 people were reported to have tested positive for coronavirus in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 41,577.

Public Health Wales said 16 people with Covid-19 had died, with the total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic rising to 1,772.

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