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Filipina says employer’s call made her forget to pay for goods

09 February 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

A Filipina domestic helper has claimed in court that she failed to pay for all the goods she took from a supermarket because her employer was looking for her.

But Eastern Court magistrate Peter Hui dismissed the claim, and fined Ma. Luisa Godoy, 59, $2,000 for theft. He said he decided on a fine as the defendant was a first-time offender and the stolen goods which cost just $300 were recovered.   

Godoy said during her trial on Jan 24 that she “panicked and was confused” when her female employer sent her a text message saying she had to drive her at 2:10pm.

But Hui said he saw no reason for the defendant to rush out of the store, as she still had 25 minutes before the appointed time. That was enough for her to pay for all the items she had in her recyclable bag, as the employer’s flat was just 30 meters away.

The court heard that the Filipina driver, who earned $13,000 a month, went to the Wellcome store somewhere on Hong Kong Island at past 1pm on Oct 20 last year, to buy lunch and personal hygiene goods.

She put her empty eco-bag in a trolley basket and went to the toiletries section where she took two bottles of shampoo, a conditioner, a bubble bath and a pack of sanitary napkins. Then she went to other sections where got two cans of John West tuna salad, two bottles of fruit juice, a pack of snacks, and two other items. The goods’ total value was $390.

The defendant said she was at the cashier to pay for the goods when she received a message from her employer Brenda Chen about her 2:10pm driving task. She said Chen also told her she had been calling her but got no reply.

“I became nervous. I was confused and I panicked,” said Godoy at the witness stand. She said she got the message after she had taken out four items from her bag. She paid $94.70 for them and told the cashier she was hurrying and would return later to pay for the rest.

When she stepped outside,  the supermarket’s guard stopped her and told her she had not paid for other items in her bag. She allegedly said, “I forgot.”

The guard took her to the manager’s office where she was arrested by police.

In court, the guard said he had discreetly watched Godoy for about 20 minutes after seeing her acting suspiciously. He said when Godoy was at the toiletries section, she looked left and right before she took two bottles of shampoo and put them in her green bag.

The driver moved on to the food section, took the tuna salad cans and snacks, then went to the female hygiene area, picked up a pack of napkins and put it in her bag, Wong said.

Godoy’s evidence and cross-examination by both the prosecution and defense took the most part of the one-day trial.

The prosecutor told her that she had intentionally pulled out and paid for just four items and tried to steal the rest.

But the defendant said she had told the cashier in English she would pay for the rest later.

The prosecutor dismissed this, and said she had been in Hong Kong for about 20 years and should have been aware that no Hong Kong shop would let her take out any merchandise without paying for them.

Godoy’s lawyer tried to get the defendant to explain that she committed the offense out of confusion and panic because of fear of her employer, but the magistrate did not buy the reasoning.
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