When is stealing, stealing?

Picture the scene.

A girls’ boarding school, circa 1996. A large number of tweens from the local primary school in costume, pacing the floor as they rehearse their speech and drama for the big exam.

A locker open. A tantalising glimpse of a bag of mini Toffee Crisps, spilling over.


Speech and drama exams are stressful affairs. They require fuel. Cheese sandwiches and apples are not, even today, the kind of fuel that will help me on a stressful day.

Reader, I took one.  It was my first brush with the law.

Suddenly it all spiralled out of my control. One Toffee Crisp turned into an entire bag of them (not all eaten by me, mind). The taste of filched chocolate remains with me to this day, and it was a long time before I could eat another one. Although I still love them.

Someone (I will protect the snitch on this public forum. For shame – forget about thievery, is snitching not the greatest crime in Irish life?) told the Speech and Drama teacher. Poor Ms Lohan was horrified, and now, I see why. She was renting the space from the nuns. She’d told them she’d watch us like a hawk, and here we were, betraying her trust.

My parents took it very seriously. They sat me down. They threatened me with the guards. There were tears and recriminations. The Toffee Crisp was funsize, but I felt even smaller.

It’s not quite a slippery slope from one funsize Toffee Crisp to a life of crime, but I never, ever stole anything again. And I am very black and white about stealing as a result… but it turns out, not everybody is.

It’s amazing how the smallest, most seemingly insignificant story can turn into the biggest row you’ll ever have on the Opinion Line, but it’s often the small things that reveal the most about us and how we think. (Listen back to today’s show here from about 3pm).

A listener contacted us about a wedding she attended at a Cork city hotel. She had prepared a sweet table for the couple as part of their wedding gift and when she arrived back in to check it before the reception, what seemed to be quite a few of the chocolates were gone. She complained, and her Ferrero Rocher and Lindt chocolates were replaced with some squares of a chocolate bar.

We’ve never had so many calls (quite a few to tell us how stupid we were to be discussing it in the first place) with such a massive diversity of views.

It veered from “it’s only a few chocolates” to “sacking offence” and pretty much everything in between. Quite a few people who’ve worked in hospitality contacted us to say they were horrified. A few sample texts:

Hi I think it’s wrong to take anything in that situation think of this if there was also a display of wedding cards (probably with money on them) would you take one of them? I don’t think so. So why is it ok to take sweets from the table also that is the person livelihood that they are putting in jeopardy that is her job I don’t think the staff would like if someone put there hand in their pocket and took money – it’s the same thing. Paul

Wasn’t it part of a wedding gift and not just a display so in actual fact it is theft and who ever did it should be reprimanded. Eilish

Hi PJ, this is nothing new in hotels. I have worked in hotels where wedding favours have been eaten by staff. Also I have seen chefs take the cameras that are left on tables and take random photos of themselves and even of their private parts. Patrick

In my experience. If person setting up sweet cart is nice to staff, they’ll respect the cart. If someone is snooty to the staff. Then you don’t care and will take a few. It’s wise to chat to staff. Sean in castletownbere

Did u see in last weeks paper. A man in IKEA won 29000 for being fired for taking a milkshake. The picture on facebook looks like leftovers from a wedding the day before.the staff might have thought the same. Just a warning

Hi pj I’m a hotel duty manager and believe me while this happens and it annoys all concerned but believe me a lot worst goes on in the hotel trade Michael

Morning PJ Should the person or persons! involved in the hotel sweet incident be dismissed? Yes. There’s not a minimum set on what a person can rob. No employees are told “take what you want up to .5. You’ll be fired if you take more than that!” Displays are there for the people who attend receptions. Not the staff. Thanks, at work can’t talk. John

Over to you. What do you think?



  1. I once walked out of a supermarket and realised I’d not paid for a bag of toilet rolls that were hanging, somewhat forlorn and forgotten on the trolley, just out of sight. I dutifully went back in and admitted my wrongdoing. The staff were quite surprised that I had even bothered but I’d have lost sleep about that incident. I also, quite accidentally, ended up with a pair of pants attached to the pocket of my trousers, on a small coat hanger because of course, all pants need to be hung up in a wardrobe. It was only because of the kindness of a stranger, that I became aware of the said incident and politely hung the pants next to a crate of oranges and left rather swiftly.

    • You’re fierce virtuous!

      Now that you mention this I realise I forgot another transgression – I nicked three pairs of knickers from a GAP outlet in Boston once. Totally by mistake. They were hanging from the bag I was holding, I’d picked them up to look at them and completely forgot they were still attached! Because I was on the J1, under 21 and thus terrified of being deported for *anything*, I was too scared to go back in with them! Good knickers, in fairness. They lasted years!

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