This morning I was asked this very question on LBC, and found it a really interesting discussion.
In July of this year, a lady posted on a Facebook page, Free to Feed, that she had been breastfeeding her baby in Primark when a security guard had asked her to leave. When she stood her ground and refused to leave, she alleged that the security guard had removed her child from her breast and walked away, telling her if she wanted her daughter, she should come and get her.
I remember seeing the post, and I remember thinking it was shocking. Actually, it’s more accurate to say I remember seeing it several times. It was shared a lot. Posts like that, where someone has been told to leave an establishment for breastfeeding, tend to go viral on social media. People get (quite rightly) enraged about it and often when something like this happens, there is talk of boycotting, or having a “feed-in” where groups of women head to the shop in question and feed their babies.
After the post went viral on Facebook, the media picked it up and some newspapers ran the story.
As it happens, Primark looked at the CCTV footage of the day and could not find any evidence of what this lady said had happened. In fact, when they looked at the staff roster for the day, there were no security guards on shift that day fitting the description this lady had given. She was eventually charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice and admitted in court that the whole thing had been a lie.
Sentencing has been adjourned until December, but a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice carries the potential for an 18-month prison sentence.
Should this lady go to prison?
On the one hand, she has told a lie that has brought Primark (and its security guards) into disrepute. Thousands of people will have seen that Facebook post, but only a fraction will have heard the later story that it was all a lie.
Aside from bringing Primark into disrepute, she has wasted time and money: the police had to investigate it, and then there’s the time and money involved in taking the case to court to charge her. Aside from this, there’s the fact that the next woman to whom this sort of thing genuinely happens may well be disbelieved by a lot of people. Crying wolf doesn’t only affect you, but the people who come after you!
On the other though, if she was so desperate for attention that she made up a story to go viral on Facebook… isn’t the ridicule of those same Facebookers punishment enough? To be outed as a liar, to be spoken about in the national press in such a negative way is no small thing.
And if she goes to prison, who really loses out? Yes, she spends up to 18 months in a prison cell – but it’s our taxes that will pay for that, when they have already paid for the police investigation and court case. Furthermore, she is a mother. If she goes to prison, even if only for a few months, what effect will that have on her children? While I don’t believe she should “get away” with doing this, I don’t believe her children should be punished for her stupidity – and if she went to prison, they would.