Vicar who advised Kenneth Kaunda had kind things to say about hungry shoplifters

Posted: 10 October, 2023 | Category: Current News Category: Features & Analysis

John Papworth (with his kitten called Isolde) and Kenneth Kaunda in London in the early 1960s – fellow Christians and friends for life ( Picture: Trevor Grundy library)




Party conference season is drawing to a close in crisis-riddled Britain, thank God.

Q: What did they all amount to?

A:  Loads of claptrap about politicians building the new Britain after their respective parties wrecked the old one.

But hardly anyone of standing in the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat or Green parties (plus all the PR people and lobbyists who hang around them like leeches on corpses) has mentioned a problem that has owners of some of Britain’s biggest stores and supermarkets tearing their hair out with worry – shoplifting and what lies behind this growing problem.

Callouts to supermarkets rose by as much as 75 percent last year as the cost- of living crisis deepened.

Soon the nation’s food banks will be empty.

What then if you have a pain in your stomach and your children have fear in their eyes?

There are huge up-turns in reports of people stealing food, drink and other essentials from the country’s leading food chains.

Reports say that supermarkets are making unprecedented moves (at the same time as making unprecedented profits) to prevent essentials being stolen. In big supermarkets, staff have been put on alert to watch out for people nicking milk, fresh meat and baby foods.

A report in the mass circulation ‘Daily Mirror’ said while it is impossible to certify how many thefts come from desperation, the figures released by the leading food bank charity, The Trussel Trust, show that last year (2022) more than eleven million Brits faced food hunger.

The Trust’s Chief Executive told the paper: “These figures are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Armed robberies and shoplifting are increasing across the country and incidents of customer theft have reached eight million a year, costing retailers in the region of £1 million in 2021/2022.

With the cost of prevention added in, that figure could be closer to £2bn. say retail monitors.

Some 88 shopping giants are calling for a crackdown on shoplifting and violence against staff.

Dozens of supermarkets CEOs have written to Britain’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman demanding “urgent action” on soaring crime rates and food theft

Those companies include Tesco, Morrisons, Salisbury’s, the Co-op, Marks and Spencer, New Look, JD Sports and H&M.

The call follows a survey by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) which found that violence and abuse towards retail staff doubled on pre-Covid pandemic levels- to reach 867 incidents a day in 2021-2022.

“It is vital that action is taken before the scourge of retail crime gets any worse,” said Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the BRC. “We are seeing organised gangs threatening staff with weapons and emptying stores.”

In the mainstream media, few journalists write about the plight of the hungry, the homeless, the hopeless.

Against the backdrop of such widespread condemnation by the CEOs and shareholders, shoplifters need a friend with clout in high places..

Hello John Papworth.


John Papworth was born in Shoreditch, east London, in 1921 and he was brought up in Hornchurch, Essex.

He was an orphan who was abandoned by his housemaid mother. John never found out who his father was.

At the age of 14, he was sent out to work as a baker’s boy. Having suffered such a miserable childhood, he attempted suicide three times.

He flirted with communism but was kicked out of the Party after six months for daring to think for himself.

During World War Two, he was a military cook but thanks to friends in socialist circles was sponsored to study economic history at London University. Later, he married a remarkable young woman, Marcelle Fouquet. The couple had three children.  One of them, Marie, went on to become PA to the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

John Papworth – Jesus said nothing about stealing from Marks and Spencer


In 1969, John emigrated to Zambia with his young family to become personal assistant to the country’s president, Dr Kenneth Kaunda a Christian much loved by the British Foreign Office.

Papworth and Kaunda met when they both were young men in London.

Kenneth Kaunda, the up-and-coming nationalist.

John Papworth the idealistic Christian/ex-communist/socialist/liberal anti-colonialist.

They frequented good restaurants in Earl’s Court and night-clubs in London’s West End where KK was quick to make friends with locals.

They stayed close friends for the rest of their lives.

In Lusaka, John Papworth established the Zambia Village Industry Service and believed that democracy and the national philosophy of Humanism, could only work well if men and women voted on purely local agricultural projects which would develop family- based communities.

During his time in Zambia, he was ordained as an Anglican priest saying to friends –  “I came to understand  that the modern attempt to live without God has failed.”

The new vicar returned to the UK in 1980 but it was in 1997 that he leap-frogged to national fame (for a full 15 minutes) when he became Britain’s most controversial Man of God.

As Tony Blair promised a New Dawn, John Papworth told newspapers that it was not immoral to steal from big supermarkets if you are poor and hungry.

He yelled it out so all with ears could hear –  “Jesus said – Love your neighbour. He said nothing about loving Marks and Spencer.”

The stuffy out of touch decision-makers in the Church of England immediately barred him from preaching and reminded editors that it was John Papworth who helped the Soviet double agent George Blake stay safe after his sensational escae from Wormwood Scrubbs in 1966.



Very few people in Britain will remember the name of John Papworth and what he got up to in England when he was young.

An obituary about him in The Times of July 15, 2020 carried the headline – The Rev John Papworth (1921-2020) Campaigning churchman who became known as the’ shoplifting vicar.’

It said that supermarkets with everything else that was big represented the enemy to John Papworth.

After all, he had devoted his life espousing radical causes.

Said The Times– “He was clearly a man who loved attention but there was always a clearly held belief underlying”.


The Rev John Papworth always said that Jesus’s friends were the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden. . . even the shoplifters.

How popular he was with the few. How popular he’d be now if what he said was widely known. Sadly, he never said anything about the rightness of stealing from shops in Zambia where the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever.

His core belief stayed with him to the end – “If we don’t go back to living in empowered neighbourhood communities where a sense of morality and decency can find expression, I don’t see very much hope for the English race.”