Store regrets shoplift shame

RACIALLY PROFILED: Rikki Cooper felt the colour of her skin was behind the reason she was targeted by staff at Countdown’s Dinsdale supermarket in Hamilton.
RACIALLY PROFILED: Rikki Cooper felt the colour of her skin was behind the reason she was targeted by staff at Countdown’s Dinsdale supermarket in Hamilton.

The mother of a pregnant woman who was wrongly accused of theft over an instore intercom at her local supermarket said staff denied that the incident occurred when she called an hour later.

Cherisse Martin, mother of Rikki Cooper, said her daughter rang her in tears after a female staff member at Countdown Dinsdale, in Hamilton, used the store's intercom system to track her movements.

Cooper went to the Countdown on Thursday for her weekly grocery shopping when over the speakers she and other shoppers could hear a female staff member describe her as a "Maori girl" who needed to be watched.

The incident has sparked outrage across New Zealand and a Facebook account has been set up to boycott the Countdown supermarket on Whatawhata Rd.

Martin said after she received a call from her daughter she immediately got on the phone to Countdown Dinsdale last Thursday evening.

After explaining to the female staff member what her daughter had told her, she was shocked by the tone the manager took.

''I said why on earth did this happen over an intercom? She said that the incident didn't happen; that she had been there all day and it did not happen.''

Martin believed her daughter and was horrified at the lack of professionalism shown by the staff. 

''I think anyone who has been in a situation where they have been followed, or stared at by staff of any store while trying to buy things will understand how unsettling this experience is.''

The family have had a formal apology from Countdown management and have been offered a shopping spree at any Countdown store of their choice. 

Countdown general manager for Operations Brett Ashley said he could not comment on the second incident because it was an ''employment issue''.

"Countdown does not condone the actions of our team on this occasion, and we are undertaking an internal investigation.  We will not comment on the details for privacy reasons, but we can say that we are extremely disappointed and under no circumstances is what happened acceptable.''

Ashley said Countdown have ''strict policies'' about how they treat and respect customers.  

''Where we suspect shoplifting or any other anti-social behaviour, our team are trained on how to manage a variety of different situations.  We have taken the opportunity to reiterate our expectations to our team.''

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy has praised Cooper for going public after being subjected to ''racial stereotyping'' by supermarket workers.

''Sadly what happened to Rikki Cooper isn't new but it highlights something that's faced every day by everyday people,'' Devoy said.

''Racial stereotyping has no place in our country's future and it's everyday people who need to make it part of our history.''

Devoy urged organisations and companies like Countdown to do the right thing, train their staff and make sure this never happens again.  

She congratulated the company for doing the right thing by apologising and investigating the incident.   

''Those people who have the courage to call out racial stereotyping when they experience it or see it are helping to make our country a better place to live in.''

Waikato Times