Exclusive: How Marks and Spencer banned this 85 year old Covid shielding woman from shopping with them for life

Patricia Stewart

This is Patricia Stewart an 85 year old woman. She spent the first five months of the lockdown shielding from Covid 19 as she is a vulnerable person. Last autumn during the period when the first lockdown was lifted she ventured out to shop for the first time. As a M&S customer for over 60 years she went to her favourite branch in Bexleyheath shopping mall. What happened next is hardly believable but raises a lot of civil liberties issues.

Patricia Stewart was nervous about going round a public store for the first time. She went to the customer services desk and exchanged a babywear item for a bra. She then went round the food hall but being worried about Covid starting putting packaged food items into plastic bags. This attracted the attention of a security guard who told her not to do this.

According to details released by M&S following a subject access request by her relatives he ” deemed it as shoplifting “. She was then followed by a male manager and female colleagues. Now feeling thoroughly uncomfortable she approached the till four times and then changed her mind and decided to leave the trolley full of shopping and go out of the store.

M&S Brazilian knickers- a smoking gun?

She was followed into the shopping mall by the manager and a female colleague and while she was sitting on a bench waiting for a taxi they challenged her in public and demanded her name and address She refused to give it to them so they proceeded to search her shopping bag. They found none of the food shopping but did discover a pair of M&S Brazilian knickers without a receipt. They claimed they had been watching her on CCTV and saw her change a label adding that a customer had also complained about her.

Marks and Spencer store in Bexleyheath. Pic credit: M&S Facebook page

They then proceeded to serve her with a ” trespass order” – a device used by many stores to keep out suspect shoplifters without going to court – not only from the Bexleyheath store but from any store in the country and on purchasing anything from M&S on line for the rest of their life.

The ban has been challenged by her two daughters who asked to see the CCTV and for evidence of the other customer’s complaint. When challenged M&S couldn’t provide the CCTV to prove their allegation because according to them ” it wasn’t recording properly”. Nor could they produce the customer who complained.

But M&S stuck to their story and have now ended any correspondence with them -pointing out they are not regulated by anybody and therefore nothing else can be done.

Steve Rowe, chief executive, Marks and Spencer

I decided to investigate this and approached M&S Corporate Press for comment. Six weeks after failing to reply to me I escalated my inquiry to Steve Rowe, chief executive of M&S, who has ignored my email. Therefore I can’t put their response.

There are two issues here which are connected. First of all the particular case and the use of trespass orders and secondly how they can be enforced. The retailer is allowed to use them because their store is private property. A search on the internet reveals they could be quite common – for example someone complained in Bristol about being banned by M&S. And nobody knows how they can be enforced – one theory which sounds too fanciful to me – is that M&S are secretly using facial recognition cameras in their stores. The other is that the M&S Sparks card – both offers you treats but is used as a surveillance card to monitor customers. Since M&S would not respond to my questions all this is speculation.

The Sparks card was used by M&S in this case as proof of her not purchasing the knickers – they revealed in an email that they have records of many of her purchases going back two years but insisted they had no personal file on her. But according to her the knickers were purchased by a friend as a gift – so they wouldn’t be on her purchase list.

Failing to get a reply from M&S the relatives and I decided that we could test out the ban. First she decided to order a bra on line without using a Sparks card – and guess what she received a cheery note from the company telling them it was on its way and it was delivered last month. (see above)

She has since then shopped in three other M&S stores without any problem but has not returned to Bexleyheath.

This raises the question whether these ” trespass orders” can really be enforced or just used to intimidate people believing they can be banned. I would certainly have thought they would have to have an elaborate system to enforce them nationwide – that might be challenged by GDPR.

The other matter is a civil liberties issue – from what I have got from the subject access request – M&S would have had a flimsy case if they went to court. So why should they be judge and jury in deciding people’s individual liberties?

Tufail Ahmed, general manager of the Bexleyheath store. The store is the South East London Academy store, leading business initiatives and educating store teams across the region

According to their memos M&S believe their staff behaved with ” integrity” in banning her. Tufail Ahmed, the manager of the Bexleyheath store, who must be locally responsible for this, has a Linked In page in which he says:

 “M&S Manager of the Year 2018/2019. With nearly 20 years of retail experience working for leading retailers in various roles, I know that change is a very normal place in retail. I am now part of the change at M&S, leading and inspiring people to be the very best.

” My long term aim is to be an influential member of a business’ senior leadership team, that is what I am currently working towards.”

I suspect relatives of Patricia Stewart might beg to disagree.

As for Steve Rowe, who has built his entire career with M&S, his silence on the matter is deafening. He looks about the age to have elderly relatives, I wonder if he would like them to be treated like Patricia Stewart.

25 thoughts on “Exclusive: How Marks and Spencer banned this 85 year old Covid shielding woman from shopping with them for life

    • Disgusting behaviour towards the elderly lady and to you as an investigative journalist. I am afraid the management culture at M&S is now appalling and consistent. As you well know, although the behaviour towards the 85-year-old is indeed appalling, there is much worse. You only have to look at how Corporate M&S is treating one of their clinically extremely vulnerable staff who has given them 40 plus years of service despite her Multiple Sclerosis condition. If you think what Bexleyheath has done is bad, look at what M&S HQ has done to her. One example is forcing vulnerable people back to work at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last summer when thousands of people each week were dying of Covid-19 so they could enable other M&S colleagues ‘who hadn’t been on furlough, time to have some holiday’.

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  1. Disgusting behaviour by M&S Bexleyheath. The staff involved should be ashamed of the way they handled this. That poor woman must have been terrified to have been hounded in store to the point of leaving her shopping, then for them to pursue her outside, shocking behaviour. Won’t be getting my custom!!

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  2. Behavior like this goes on all the time. I don’t believe it’s legal for the people mentioned or myself, or any other ‘civilian’ to go searching through people’s bags….I’ve had it done to me. Was so shocked I let it happen…but anonymous stranger (didn’t even claim to be a job title) did that to me again I hope I would defend myself/ batter the cnut. Hopefully at least get a court date then but most likely interned in mental prison for life, no matter how many of them you end up killing…..

    But I must have read at least a hundred cases similar to this over last decade. But here’s the Q. If I buy one share in said company, I’m legally one of the owner’s….so how can a employ bar me from my own property? It’s far more serious in rural areas like this…I get banned I can’t buy food or alcohol (continue with my plan to drink myself to death) as nothing else in walking distance. I certainly can’t walk very far and even if I did walk down the side of the motorway pigyobs are under standing orders to violent abduct and sometimes murder people who do that…..?

    + the extra humiliation of having your face, name and what knickers you wear plastered over the internet! I hope you changed the name at least David?

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  3. I always put my food items into my own plastic bags whilst shopping, as most of the trolleys in store are filthy, and I have never been challenged. What an easy target for the security team and the store manager…an 85 year old confused lady!
    M&S has lost its way….from a stall in Leeds Market…from humble beginnings to downright rudeness.

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    • Don’t shop at M&S and never will over priced goods that anyone can purchase in far cheaper stores,. Reading this article has assured my thoughts that the customer service is second rate too.

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  4. This poor woman should not under any circumstances have been treated this way absolutely disgusting and to follow her out of the shop they should be ashamed of themselves treated a vulnerable lady like this Innocent may I add bless her on her own as well m & s shame on you

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  5. This gives me deja vu;. My later partner had a trespass order placed on him in M&S Weston Super .Mare town centre.

    I was so shocked about it. I complained just like you – to the CEO – and my complaint also was ignored.

    Then near Christmas 2019 I visited my partner in Weston and took him to their out of town branch near Worle, a couple of miles from the town centre. All the time I was looking over my shoulder expecting a supervisor or manager to come and tap on one of our shoulders and send us packing.

    It never came.

    It was then I realised what an embarrassing farce M&S had made in issuing the Trespass notice to my partner in my absence. That they were not enforceable or passed between stores. That the whole stupid act was just that – an ect in one store.

    Unfortunately, my partner passed away suddenly last October in Weston. He wasn’t a well man, and being reminded of the incident he suffered at M&S hands has made me decide to tell M&S what they can do with their Sparks card and with any future purchases that I will never be making with them again.

    As usual, their arrogance and their ignorance is allowed to continue and unless anyone affected by this schoolyard bullying and their families, decide to boycott this store, nothing will change.

    Thank you for the reminder about this incident which had gone to the back of my memory for good reason; unacceptable behaviour by this company. And the loss of my partner just a year later.

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  6. The fact M & S issued a trespass order could be countered by Patricia making a complaint to the Police. Section 2(1)(c) Crime and Policing Act: “conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person”.

    On the face of it a couple of ASBO’s to the M & S staff might focus their minds and also that of the CEO. They should be ashamed of themselves and perhaps give this lady a substantial food hamper by way of an apology.

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  7. Disgraceful behaviour on the part of M & S staff. As a shareholder of M &S this is not the sort of treatment one expects to be dished out to vulnerable customers, and M & S has always traded on being the store everyone can trust for quality and fair treatment. The Chairman should also be ashamed of himeself in not taking up this issue – obviously he deems this below his pay grade, but it says a lot about the Company as company culture comes from the top down. I hope this lady receives a full apology and some form of compensation for the distress caused to her. Shocking!

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    • İt is disgusting behavior.how can you do this an 85 years old woman? İ protest you M/S and will share this everywhere l can.

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  8. M&S should conduct a full enquiry about this. But for the Chairman to fail to acknowledge any communication made to his office is a disgrace. I know for a fact that M&S has procedures in place to cover just about every scenario imaginable. The staff who challenged this poor elderly lady should have known how this should have been handled, but failed miserably. To my mind the fault lies firmly at the door of the staff involved in being seemingly ignorant to their own working practices and should be disciplined accordingly. Nothing short of a properly conducted investigation will sort this out.

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    • M&S are a law unto themselves. To quote a manager ‘We are going to do it the Marks and Spencer Way’. That includes a total disregard for Covid-19 safety regulations that were firstly highlighted to M&S who took no action so resulting in approaches to Public Health England who offered to refer the extensive photographic evidence to the local council environmental health team who WERE able to gain an assurance from the Corporate side of Marks and Bullying that such incidents would not happen again. How many vunerable staff and shoppers were infected by these incidents which M&S continued to ignore a month after they were given evidence of their disregard of Covid-19 safety rules. Any comments on this Mr Rowe? or does Mr Hencke have to probe to find how many Sparks card holders have died since using that particular store?

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      • Just obtained some figures from a health trust that detail the number of deaths caused by Covid-19 infection in the hospital (excludes Covid-19 deaths elsewhere in the vincinity) that serves the small market town where this store is situated. The month after Corporate M&S finally admitted the disregard of Covid-19 safety in that store, saw an increase at that hospital of in-hospital deaths from Covid-19 of 101% on the previous month.

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  9. Serve M&S right if all their older customers boycotted them, it would probably be half of more of their customer base, what a way to treat an 85 year old who has probably been a loyal customer for years !!! Good God M&S get a grip !!!

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  10. M&s has been going downhill since the1990s. How can we be surprised at this high-handed, ‘big brotherish’ behaviour when our government sets the example of keeping the lower orders in their place, even attempting to change thelaw to prevent us from finding out about their worst excesses. As an ex-IT manager, I have been doing my best to reduce my digital footprint to prevent misuse of my data. It is becoming increasingly difficult to conduct a normal life without someone ‘spying’ on you. M&S are just more blatant in their abuses, apparently. Heven’t shopped there for 5 years…feel another 5 coming on.

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  11. ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING BEHAVIOUR BY MARKS AND SPENCER
    ABSOLUTE INTIMIDATION 🤬
    THEY OWE HER A MASSIVE APOLOGY
    SORT IT 🤬

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  12. i would suggest the lady buys one share in m &s and then attends the next agm where as a shareholder she can not be stopped from going and once in the meeting bring this incident up and demand an explanation and apology from the chairman and board.

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  13. Pingback: Marks and Spencer shamed: Sunday Mirror follows through my story of the 85 year old given a lifetime shopping ban | Westminster Confidential

    • Hardly. Doesn’t do their image any good picking on 85 year old ladies. Also had the last laugh -their nationwide ban doesn’t work as she has visited other branches with no probs at all. Now thousands of people know that.

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