Richard Walker, Executive Chair of supermarket chain Iceland, has apologised after spreading misinformation about HIV transmission.
In an op-ed for the Mail Online in reference to shoplifting, Walker claimed that three members of staff had contracted HIV after needle attacks.
The original article was published online (15 September) and has since been amended (21 September) to include the following note: “Since this article was first published, Iceland have clarified that they provided information to Mail Online in error regarding staff being infected with HIV and the article has been revised accordingly.”
Walker has taken to Twitter to apologise, saying “my comment piece on shoplifting published by the Mail Online on 15 September was a draft article that I believed had been superseded by a video interview.
“As I correctly stated in both the draft article and the video interview, threats of violence against our store colleagues by shoplifters are sadly an everyday occurrence, and the weapons deployed to reinforce these threats regularly include knives, screwdrivers, hammers and hypodermic needles.
“However, the claim in the draft article that three of our store colleagues are HIV positive as a result of needle attacks was made in error. I have learnt a lot over the last 10 days, and spoken to professionals doing amazing work in this area.”
Walker continued: “I am told such needlestick occurrences are vanishingly rare and have not happened for many years. I am therefore naturally very sorry that the draft article contained this information.
“We immediately asked the Mail Online to amend its article, which has now been done, and quickly secured the removal of the claim from other media outlets.
“I obviously never had any intention of stigmatising people with HIV or causing distress, and I apologise to anyone who feels that they were adversely affected by this.”
My comment piece on shoplifting published by the Mail Online on 15 September was a draft article that I believed had been superseded by a video interview.
As I correctly stated in both the draft article and the video interview, threats of violence against our store colleagues…
— Richard Walker (@icelandrichard) September 25, 2023
This statement comes after Terrence Higgins Trust and National AIDS Trust both called for an apology.
National AIDS Trust released a statement (20 September) that highlighted “we believe claims that HIV transmission occurred through needle attacks to Iceland staff are inaccurate and have fueled HIV stigma.”
Terrence Higgins Trust said “Richard Walker needs to say sorry for his remarks, which risk spreading misinformation and stigmatising people living with HIV.”
They go on to explain how “we believe this claim is false, with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) stating the most recent documented case of HIV through needlestick injury was in 1999. We’re unaware of any recorded person contracting HIV from a needle stick in the UK.
“We work hard every day to challenge stigma and misinformation surrounding HIV and that one line – which was picked up by multiple media outlets – is setting us back in achieving our mission. It has a severe impact on the lives of people living with HIV.”
Upon the publication of the apology, Chief Executive Richard Angell took to Twitter, writing: “Thank you for acknowledging the error and coming on a journey @icelandrichard.
“As we discussed, @IcelandFoods is disproportionately located in areas of high HIV prevalence – let’s continue the journey and work to end new cases of HIV by 2030.”
Thank you for acknowledging the error and coming on a journey @icelandrichard.
As we discussed, @IcelandFoods is disproportionately located in areas of high HIV prevalence – let’s continue the journey and work to end new cases of HIV by 2030.#fightHIVstigma https://t.co/mTbie6Vtwx
— Richard Angell 🇺🇦 (@RichardAngell) September 25, 2023
National AIDS Trust further thanked Richard for “acknowledging your error” and for “putting the record straight.”
Thank you for acknowledging your error, @icelandrichard, and for putting the record straight. Incorrect claims contribute to HIV stigma and discrimination.
— National AIDS Trust (@NAT_AIDS_Trust) September 26, 2023