15 February 2007, 19:29 PM
  • Plans to let first-time shoplifters off with simply saying ‘sorry' are being attacked by retailers who fear the Home Office is preparing to go even softer on criminals who target shops.

Publishing its response to the Home Office consultation on revised measures to tackle anti-social behaviour, the British Retail Consortium says retailers are seriously concerned about plans to extend the existing system of on the spot fines for first offences to include repeat offenders, with an ‘on the street apology’ introduced for the first criminal act.

Retailers believe fixed penalty notices, introduced for shoplifting offences less than three years ago, are being routinely abused. They say that in a number of cases they are being incorrectly applied without the victim’s consent, to repeat offenders and for offences where goods worth more than £200 have been stolen (Fines should not be issued for offences where goods worth more than £200 have been stolen).

Extending the use of on the spot fines will further dilute penalties for shop crime, which costs the industry £2.1bn a year, and will give offenders the green light to re-offend.

BRC director general, Kevin Hawkins, (pictured above right) said, “The average shoplifter makes off with £149 worth of goods every time they steal. It is a nonsense to think a repeat offender is going to be put off by an £80 fine. And what kind of message does it send to a first time offender if all they have to do is say a quick ‘sorry’ before heading off home?

“The Home Office simply doesn’t understand the nature of the crime. It is not some victimless bit of naughtiness. It has a significant human and social cost, leaves shop staff open to acts of violence and costs retailers more than £2 billion a year.

“We’re not suggesting that the kid who makes a one-off mistake should be nailed to the wall, but repeat offenders should know that if they go on stealing they will be punished. ‘Sorry’, or a token fine are no deterrent. However full prisons are, the Home Office needs to show it recognises shop crime matters by rejecting these proposals.”

Penalty Notices for Disorder (PND) were introduced to deal with first time offences for the theft of goods under the value of £200. When they were introduced for shop theft in 2004 the BRC raised a number of concerns relating to their application which have since proven correct. PNDs have been inconsistently applied across police forces, they have been issued incorrectly to repeat offenders, issued without the consent of victims and issued for the theft of goods worth more than the prescribed £200 limit. They have also failed to stem the rapid rise in the number of shoplifting offences, which have risen by 70 per cent since 2000.

A lack of up to date records on repeat offenders and a failure to share this information between police forces has also lead to a situation where an offender can be arrested for three separate shoplifting offences in three police precincts in a single day and face no more than a fine. The BRC believes this is unacceptable.