Royal aide banned by Fortnum as she's 'caught on camera stealing'

EXCLUSIVE: Royal aide banned by Fortnum and Mason as she’s caught on camera ‘stealing bracelet’

A trusted Royal aide has been caught shoplifting at luxury department store Fortnum and Mason, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Security guards are said to have discovered a bracelet in the woman’s handbag after challenging her as she tried to leave through a side exit. Instead of alerting police, they warned she would be ejected if she set foot in the store again.

At the time, the aide was being ‘monitored’ because she allegedly helped herself to make-up samples during a previous visit. Sources told this newspaper that her Royal connection is known to Fortnum’s staff.

Known as the late Queen’s favourite store, 316-year-old Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly has a long and close relationship with the Royal Family. The store holds two Royal Warrants. One was granted by Queen Elizabeth, the other by Charles.

Chiefly known as a purveyor of fine food and drink, in particular hampers, Fortnum’s also sells other luxury goods.

A general view of Fortnum and Mason’s department store on Piccadilly, London

The aide was observed on her most recent visit to the second level – the ‘Georgian-inspired beauty floor’ – by security staff who were wearing body cameras. It is understood she then left the floor and walked down a flight of stairs, heading for the Duke Street side exit, opposite an art gallery.

When apprehended, she is said to have claimed there had been a misunderstanding, but was told the theft was captured on film. Sources said the bracelet’s white security tag had been removed.

Asked about the incident last night, a Fortnum and Mason spokesperson said: ‘No comment.’ Buckingham Palace also declined to comment.

It is understood that the aide was accompanied by another royal employee who was unaware of the theft. 

The woman concerned is described by colleagues as ‘utterly faithful’ and indispensable to the Royal Family.

According to sources, the incident in September caused ‘surprise and disappointment’ within the Royal Household.

She has remained in her job, however, and is not expected to face disciplinary action.

Britain’s shoplifting epidemic has been highlighted over the past two months by a Mail on Sunday campaign calling for the police, prosecutors and courts to be much tougher with offenders. Asda chairman Lord Stuart Rose has said: ‘Theft has become minimised and decriminalised. It’s just not seen as a crime any more.’

Thieves are exploiting lax policing, a ‘soft touch’ justice system and the fact that some store staff are told not to tackle shoplifters for fear they could be attacked by the criminals – or even prosecuted themselves for intervening.

Retailers say they lost more than £1 billion in stolen goods last year, forcing them to raise prices at a time when consumers are already struggling with escalating food costs.

Last year it was reported that Fortnum’s had apparently lost faith in police to catch shoplifters, instead using private detectives and bringing its own prosecutions.

The store’s links to the Royals date back to its foundation. William Fortnum was a footman in Queen Anne’s household and started the business from a legitimate perk.

Queen Anne’s insistence on having new candles every night resulted in large amounts of half-used wax, which Fortnum promptly resold. He also had a side business as a grocer. He convinced his landlord, Hugh Mason, to be his associate, and they founded the first Fortnum & Mason store in Mason’s small shop at St James’s Market in 1707.

Queen Elizabeth, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (L-R) look at their hampers after being presented with gifts at the Fortnum and Mason food store in London March 1, 2012

What successive monarchs bought from the store is largely a mystery. But in 1855 Queen Victoria asked for 250lbs of concentrated Beef Tea to be sent to Florence Nightingale in the Crimea ‘without delay’.

It was in Victoria’s reign that the store started to display the Royal Arms on packaging. Its luxuries were popular with her son and successor Edward VII. Marmalade, exotic fruits, tea and coffee were regularly dropped off at his London residence, Marlborough House. The Queen Mother had clothes made for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret by a Fortnum’s designer. She reportedly drank a cup of Fortnum’s Earl Grey tea at breakfast every morning.

As an adult, Princess Margaret, was a regular visitor and could often be seen eating smoked salmon with scrambled eggs washed down with whisky at her own table in the store’s Fountain restaurant.

Last year, it emerged that some of a £900,000 cash donation that King Charles, then Prince of Wales, received from a Qatari sheikh was stuffed into Fortnum and Mason carrier bags.

It was not suggested either party had done anything illegal.

Middle class ‘swipers’ fuel shoplifting crisis

The spike in shoplifting is being partly driven by middle-class offenders walking out without paying if items are not scanned properly by self-service checkouts, experts say.

Criminologist Emmeline Taylor said high-earning pilferers often don’t regard shoplifting as a crime.

‘The number of middle-class shoplifters is growing and has been since the introduction of self-service checkouts,’ she told The Times. ‘They would not steal using any other technique, they’re not interested in putting chocolate down their pants or a piece of steak in their coat.’

Prof Taylor, professor of criminology at City, University of London, has coined the acronym Swipers to describe the new phenomenon of well-heeled shoplifters. It stands for ‘seemingly well-intentioned patrons engaging in regular shoplifting’.

Prof Taylor added: ‘At some point the dial shifts and middle-class shoppers go from being opportunistic shoplifters to thinking ‘that felt quite good’.

‘The next stage is they start becoming alert to the opportunities and then start seeking them out.’

Prof Taylor said Swipers would often play on the fact they were middle-class if they got caught. ‘They will say, ‘Oh gosh, I’m sorry’, and they’ve got all these excuses just ready to go.

‘They won’t think of themselves as thieves, they’ll think that they’ve cheated the system. ‘

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