The family of an 11-year-old autistic boy who was falsely accused of stealing from a Woolworths store in western Sydney have revealed their horror over his traumatic experience.
Emmitt Crear visited the supermarket’s Emu Plains store on Thursday with his mother Karen to grab their weekly groceries.
Due to Emmitt’s autism and sensory disorder, he heads to the toy aisle at the supermarket where he feels most comfortable.
“He will stand in that one spot until his mum or I tell him it’s time to leave,” his sister Tiani told Yahoo7 News.
But on Thursday he was approached by a member of staff who believed he may have stolen a Lego figurine after they spotted empty packaging on the shelf.
Ms Crear said Emmitt refused to speak to the man as he rarely spoke with strangers.
As his mother signalled it was time to check-out, the employee, along with other members of staff, escalated the situation.
“Three staff members followed him and physically grabbed him. My mum proceeded to ask what was going on and they then accused my brother of stealing this [Lego] figure,” Ms Crear said.
She told Yahoo7 News the staff then began to check Emmitt’s pockets at which point their mother demanded to speak to management.
Ms Crear revealed staff watched over her family at the check-out, treating them “like criminals”.
Once realising Emmitt had not stolen the figurine, the store manager apologised to them and said they would be reviewing the CCTV to confirm there had been no theft.
“Emmitt is very literal and said to the manager, ‘Why would I steal something when my mum buys everything for me?'” Ms Crear said.
Family traumatised by ordeal
Ms Crear said her mother and brother had been left traumatised by the ordeal and believed their treatment was unacceptable.
“My mum felt very embarrassed and my brother was stressed, anxious and emotionally distressed,” she revealed.
“It’s beyond a joke”.
The incident was a devastating blow to Emmitt’s confidence, which Ms Crear said had taken years to build up.
“Due to this situation unfolding, Emmitt’s anxiety about attending that local shopping centre is through the roof,” Ms Crear told Yahoo7 News.
“This has undone years of therapy he has had just to get him into a shop.”
The family are now forced to visit another supermarket in the next town to ensure Emmitt feels comfortable.
Woolworths admits ‘error of judgement’
The supermarket has since contacted the family to apologise for the incident, yet Ms Crear said their message appeared “generic” and insincere.
A Woolworths spokesperson confirmed to Yahoo7 News Emmitt had not stolen the piece of Lego.
“It was a clear error in judgement and doesn’t reflect how we expect our teams to treat our customers,” the spokesperson said.
“We’ve contacted the family to offer our sincere and unreserved apologies for the way they were treated in our store.”
The spokesperson said the members of staff had been spoken to regarding the incident.
“We’ve addressed the matter with our store team directly and reinforced the need to treat all customers with courtesy and respect,” the spokesperson said.
Ms Crear said the store manager had been in touch with her mother to arrange a face-to-face apology with Emmitt.