In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Richard Walker, the executive chairman of Iceland Foods, made alarming claims about HIV needle attacks by shoplifters. However, Walker has now retracted these assertions, though he is yet to issue an apology. The controversial statements have drawn sharp criticism from advocacy groups and health experts.
The Daily Mail’s article, published on 15 September, spotlighted a purported shoplifting crisis and featured an interview with Richard Walker. In the piece, Walker asserted that three of his staff members were living with HIV after being attacked by shoplifters wielding hypodermic needles. This statement was met with skepticism, as the National AIDS Trust had previously emphasized that transmitting HIV through such means is “almost impossible.” The trust expressed concerns that the report could contribute to misinformation and stigmatization surrounding HIV.
HIV is a virus that compromises the immune system, making individuals susceptible to various infections and diseases. While there is no cure, effective drug treatments enable many to lead long and healthy lives. In response to the controversy, the article has been updated with a disclaimer, clarifying that Iceland provided incorrect information regarding staff contracting HIV. However, Richard Walker has not issued a formal apology.
The Terrance Higgins Trust, a charity advocating for HIV-related issues, criticized these falsehoods as an attempt to “weaponize HIV.” They voiced their disappointment on social media, highlighting that there have been no known cases of HIV transmission through needle attacks, let alone three at a single supermarket chain. Such claims perpetuate HIV-related stigma and misrepresent the transmission risk associated with needle-stick injuries or attacks, according to the National AIDS Trust, which also consulted with the UK Health Security Agency. The agency noted that the described attack would be an extremely unlikely route of transmission, as the majority of people living with HIV are on treatment and have undetectable virus levels, posing no transmission risk.
This incident serves as a reminder of the importance of accurate information and responsible reporting, especially when dealing with sensitive health issues like HIV.