Asda hires in-store priests

Guilt-ridden shoppers loading up their trolleys with wicked desserts and enough loaves and fishes to feed the 5,000 can now unburden their sins at the same time.

For supermarket chain Asda has hired a flock of priests to offer pastoral advice and take confessionals from customers.

The clerics will spend several hours a week in the company's stores offering help and comfort to shoppers. Special rooms have been set aside for counselling and confessionals - and one store has installed a prayer room for Muslims.

The Rev Alison Duff, 42, who launched the service in Broadstairs, Kent, said: 'I was overwhelmed by the response. It had only been running a few weeks when the terrorist strike in America happened. It proved to be a place where people could go to express their grief and they really used it to open their hearts.

'I strongly believe churches should put themselves in the community. More people go to Asda on a Sunday than to church so it's the best way.'

Asda spokeswoman Emily King said: 'This all started as part of our community involvement campaign. It's not as if the vicars go around preaching to shoppers. Customers approach them.'

Alison Duff added: 'Although I'm Church of England, people see me as multi-faith. There's a man on the fish counter who's a Muslim but sees me as his prayer person.'