Tsuen Wan, New Territories. Photos: Google Maps, Wikimedia Commons

A drugstore chain has provoked outrage on social media after a 77-year-old cleaner was charged with theft after allegedly pocketing a roll of gift stamps at one of its stores last year.

Li Suk-hing pleaded not guilty at the West Kowloon Magistrates Court on Wednesday, Apple Daily reported. The elderly woman, who has poor eyesight, said she took the stamps forgetfully after mistaking them for a role of tape. Her lawyer said she even tried to return them when she realized her error, but was nabbed by a security guard.

The court was told that Li took a roll of 608 Mannings gift stamps from a store in Tsuen Kam Center in Tsuen Wan, New Territories, on July 21 last year.

The drugstore chain claimed the stamps were worth HK$50 each, or HK$30,400 (US$3,885) for the whole roll of 608.

The defendant told the court that she had had four part-time cleaning jobs, three at Mannings stores and one at a telecom shop, over the past 10 years. She said her left eye was nearly blind and she had poor eyesight in her right eye.

On the day of the alleged crime, she had forgotten her glasses. She started cleaning at 7am and wanted to put trash bags inside a cardboard box. She planned to use some tape to fasten the bags inside the box but could not find any on the counter.

When she found a roll of what she thought was tape under a table, she put it in her pocket so that she could use both hands to handle the trash bags.

Li worked until 11pm that day after finishing three other cleaning jobs.

When she returned home, she found a roll of gift stamps in her pocket. Early the next day, she told the court, she waited for the shop to open so she could put the roll back in its original spot.

The court head that a security guard intercepted her and searched her bag, and reported to police that she had found a roll of gift stamps inside Li’s bag and 10 individual stamps.

The defense lawyer got hold of surveillance video that showed Li did in fact put the roll of gift stamps back. After being made aware of this, the security guard changed her statement, which no longer mentioned that she had searched Li’s bag.

As for the 10 individual stamps, Li told the court they belonged to her. She was saving them for friends and not for herself as she did not know how to use them.

It was understood that Li was fired by Mannings after the incident.

The defense lawyer told the court that it was a fact that Li had taken the gift stamps but she returned them the next day, adding that the video showed that she did not look around when she took the stamps even when some staff walked in front of her.

The lawyer said it was simply a careless mistake by Li and asked for leniency, and that the case end in acquittal.

The case was adjourned to January 26 for a verdict. However, the court of public opinion has already made its judgment.

As of 4pm on Thursday, more than 5,000 “angry” emojis and around 4,800 comments had been left on a post on the company’s Facebook page, calling the pharmacy chain cruel and unfair to the old woman.

Some said they would boycott Mannings if it did not withdraw the complaint and demanded that the company apologize to the elderly woman.

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