Woman with disability ‘embarrassed’ by Tesco manager sniffing her breath

PUBLISHED: 16:17 19 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:15 22 October 2018

Clare Thirgood has Huntingdon's Disease, and experiences symptoms that can be confused with intoxication. Picture: supplied

Clare Thirgood has Huntingdon's Disease, and experiences symptoms that can be confused with intoxication. Picture: supplied


A Potters Bar woman whose disability symptoms can be confused with drunkenness is angry after a Tesco manager smelled her breath - even though she explained.

Clare, who has Huntingdon's Disease, had these badges made because Clare, who has Huntingdon's Disease, had these badges made because "I get fed up of the looks and questions." Picture: supplied

On October 11, Clare Thirgood had driven to the Potters Bar branch of Tesco to buy some bits and pieces.

Among her shopping was some Prosecco for a celebration she was planning.

Clare, 33, said the staff member at the checkout was chatty, but hesitated to serve her booze, asking repeatedly if she was ok.

“I wasn’t sure what she was getting at,” said Clare. “So the second time, I said ‘I’m disabled, but otherwise fine’.”

Tesco Potters BarTesco Potters Bar

Part-time marketing executive Clare was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease in 2015, and some of her symptoms can be confused with drunkenness.

“[It] makes me seem intoxicated most of the time,” she said. “I usually have a badge that I had made and put on my handbag, I thought it was a funny way to avoid explaining my symptoms to people.”

But she thinks she shouldn’t automatically have to wear it, and in Tesco she happened not to have it on her.

“When I mention disability, staff should know that this is a possibility,” she argues.

Then the staff member said they were concerned about serving her alcohol, consulting a colleague. “She still didn’t mention intoxication, only if I was OK,” said Clare.

When the staff members finally said they were worried that she was drunk, Clare explained her condition fully, and they called the manager over.

“I thought he was coming over to apologise,” said Clare, who again explained her situation.

Instead, the manager leaned over without asking and sniffed her breath in front of watching customers.

After further discussion the manager agreed to sell the Prosecco, but Clare was left feeling angry and embarrassed by the encounter.

Under licensing law, says Clare, “they should say straight off the bat that they believe you’re intoxicated.

“And then when you query that, they should use common sense and their awareness of your condition.

“At least when bouncers think I’m too drunk, they ask outright, and then I can explain,” said Clare. “They immediately understand and let me in. This did not happen in the store - it took ages to get to the point. When would a well drunk person think to blame disability? They wouldn’t. If bouncers accept that, stores should without hesitation.

“Treating me in a negative way, refusing me service due to my symptoms, and embarrassing me in the store was discriminatory as soon as they knew why I seemed intoxicated.

“I don’t want to show my face in that store again as I am too self-conscious and angry.”

A spokesperson for Tesco said that staff are obliged to follow the law on the sales of alcohol, adding: “We’re very sorry for any upset or offense caused when Ms Thirgood visited our Potters Bar store.

“We’ve been in contact with her to apologise and our store manager would like to invite her in to store to discuss her concerns.”

Clare said: “There just isn’t enough awareness about hidden disabilities and what they can mean - and people shouldn’t jump to conclusions.”

Her friends are fundraising for the Huntington’s Disease Association which aims to raise awareness and support people affected by the condition.

Follow the JustGiving link here: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/penny-markham1

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