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Asda and Tesco apologies for 'mental patient' costumes

A woman carries shopping bags from Tesco and Asda in Long Eaton, central England January 12, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Staples
A woman carries shopping bags from Tesco and Asda in Long Eaton, central England January 12, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Staples

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's two biggest retailers, Tesco and Asda, have each withdrawn a Halloween costume from sale and apologized to customers after being criticized for stereotyping those suffering from mental illness.

Asda, the British arm of Wal-Mart , the world's largest stores group, on Wednesday withdrew a product it advertised on its website as a "mental patient fancy dress costume".

UK market leader Tesco followed on Thursday by removing its "Psycho Ward" costume.

"It is staggeringly offensive to the one in four of us affected by mental health problems and our families and friends, and troubling that some businesses are still so out of touch with the public mood," said Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, an anti-stigma campaign run by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

She urged retailers and manufacturers to review their processes and consider taste and decency on mental health grounds to avoid fuelling discrimination.

Asda was selling its costume, designed to look like a blood-splattered straitjacket, for 20 pounds ($32.14).

Its advertisement featured a man wearing the straitjacket and wielding a meat cleaver.

"We'd like to offer our sincere apologies for the offence caused and will be making a sizeable donation to (mental illness charity) @MindCharity," the company said on its Twitter account.

Tesco's orange boiler suit costume, with "Psycho Ward" and "committed" written on it, was being sold for 18.45 pounds.

"We're really sorry for any offence this has caused and we are removing this product from sale," it said.

For Tesco and Asda it is a further public relations blow after both were implicated in a scandal this year over the discovery of horsemeat in products labelled as beef. The scandal triggered recalls of ready meals and damaged confidence in Europe's vast and complex food industry.

Tesco in particular has suffered a series of setbacks to its reputation this year.

These include the sale of pork labelled as British that was probably Dutch, a misleading advertising campaign in response to the horsemeat scandal and a fine for misleading consumers over the pricing of strawberries.

(Editing by Kate Holton and David Goodman)

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