Should a Supermarket Skip-Diver Really Find Himself in Trouble With the Law?

By Gerald Lynch on at

Paul May, a 35 year-old freelance web designer is to face magistrates charged under a little-known section of the 1824 Vagrancy Act. Why? Because he took food from an Iceland's supermarket skip which was otherwise destined for a landfill. That's harsh.

May and two fellow defendants Jason Chan and William James were arrested on October 25 in Kentish Town London, after a member of the public reported seeing the trio climbing a wall to the back lot of the local Iceland supermarket. However, it seems the three men had no intentions of robbing the store, but were instead out "skipping" -- the act of hunting for perfectly-edible "waste food" put out by the supermarkets into their bins. When arrested, May was found with a bag full of just £33 worth of goods, all merely perishable items of food.

Though initially arrested for burglary, the three men have since been charged under an obscure point of the 1824 Vagrancy Act, pertaining to being found in "an enclosed area, namely Iceland, for an unlawful purpose, namely stealing food".

This is insane, right? While May and co certainly shouldn't have entered private property without permission, this feels all kinds of wrong. Stealing? More like saving! Supermarkets notoriously overstock and put short sell-by dates on their products, causing mountains of waste when perfectly edible. May, a squatter, is obviously desperate enough financially to even entertain eating food that's being thrown out. Wouldn't it be better to help him out, rather than let him go hungry? And, rather than taking legal action against May, shouldn't the focus be on looking at ways to ethically distribute this food, rather than just binning it? [Guardian]

Image Credit: Shopping cart with vegetables from