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'My three kids were about to get up and I knew they would be hungry ... I was desperate, I needed food'

AN actor has revealed how a mix-up with child benefit payments drove him to shoplift groceries for his children's breakfast.

Father-of-three Joseph Purcell (57) was caught stealing from one shop and admitted to theft from another.

This week a judge ordered him to complete 100 hours community service in lieu of three months in prison.

It was a role that Mr Purcell never expected to play but he told the Herald today how he felt he had no option but to steal €58 worth of groceries from two Dublin convenience stores.

"We had moved home, and a letter had been sent to our old address looking to confirm our children's allowance details," the actor, who has performed in Pygmalion at the Abbey Theatre, explained.

"But we never got the letter, so the children's allowance was stopped one month without our knowledge.


"We literally ran out of money, and then ran out of food, and I did not know what I was going to do."

He continued: "I knew my kids would be getting up, and they would be hungry. They are aged nine, 11 and 16. I just knew I couldn't go home with nothing.

"I was nervous and desperate, but I needed food. I felt I had nothing to lose, I was either going home with something or nothing."

As a result, on August 6 last he went to the SuperValu in Firhouse where he paid for some milk but also put other items like cheese, biscuits and breadrolls in the bag.

"When I got out I sat in the car and I was shaking but relieved, I suppose, that I hadn't been caught. But I hadn't enough, I needed more food than that. I needed bread, and I went to the second shop," Mr Purcell from Donomore Park in Tallaght said.

He went to Spar at the Woodstown Shopping Centre in Firhouse where he took bread, cornflakes and other groceries.

"I thought I might be able to walk out without being seen, but when I got to the car and got in a manager opened the passenger door and ordered me out.

"I felt sick. I tried to explain. I told him if he let me have the messages I could pay him later in the week.

"I told him I wasn't a thief, but he said I was, and I suppose that's what I had become at that point," Joseph said.

He was taken to Rathfarnham Garda Station and questioned.

"When I got home I had to tell my wife what had happened. I felt awful. Thankfully she was very sympathetic, because I felt terrible about it," he explained.

Joseph said his work as an actor is sporadic, especially since theatre companies have had to cut their budgets, and that what had happened to him was because of the misunderstanding over the children's allowance, which his family relies on.

Judge Anthony Halpin ordered Purcell to complete 100 hours community service in lieu of three months in prison.

Mr Purcell admitted two counts of theft before Tallaght District Court.

During the sitting the judge said that the recession has created a new type of poor, namely middle-class families who cannot buy food for their children.

The judge advised Purcell to talk to his community welfare officer, who will help if such an incidence occurs again.