When American department store pioneer Marshall Field said: ‘Right or wrong, the customer is always right,’ he probably hadn’t met anyone like Kevin Castle, the man dubbed the ‘millionaire shoplifter’ by Nottingham Police. These days customers expect to be able to able to bring back unwanted or faulty goods without the shop batting an eyelid – but this can also leave businesses exposed to the less honest among us…
Castle has spent the last few years touring DIY stores in north-west England and the Midlands, obtaining refunds for goods that he’d previously shoplifted. His scam was petty, but lucrative: police reported that he had been making between £500 and £1,000 a day since he started out, back in 2004. Like a law-breaking version of kids’ TV favourite Mr Benn, Castle had adopted a variety of disguises to achieve his illicit ends, including electrical engineer, property developer and alarm fitter. The tiny tearaway was even reported to have worn blocks in his shoes to boost his height.
Castle was finally caught while trying to exchange a packet of doorknobs (insert your own joke here) at a Homebase store in Altrincham. Staff became suspicious, and although the diminutive crook fled, he was found hiding nearby. A search of his hired Jag uncovered a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of fixtures and fittings, along with a map highlighting 300 store locations.
To give Castle his due, he at least tried to spread some of the proceeds around a bit. He spent £140k gained from his fraudulent activities staying in luxury hotels, eating in top restaurants, buying designer clothes and driving around in flash hire cars. So at least there was a trickle-down effect… Then again, since his plan involved driving all over the country exchanging stolen goods for money, perhaps it was just as well for him that he was caught now. Given the rise in fuel prices in the last few months, he would have had to shift a lot of knocked-off knockers to keep his ‘business’ in the black.
Castle, who pleaded guilty at Preston Crown Court to four counts of obtaining property by deception, with 35 other offences to be taken into consideration (possibly with more to come), has been sentenced to two years in jail. He now says he’s given up his life of crime, and regrets that he’s ‘wasted’ his life. Let’s just hope this case of ‘shoplifting with knobs on’ doesn’t convince any retailers that good customer service is a dangerous business...
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