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On the spot fines could de-criminalise shoplifting warns BRC

British Retail Consortium : 29 May, 2007  (Technical Article)
The BRC appeals to the British Government not to further water down shoplifting by treating it as a minor offence which doesn't carry custodial sentences.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is calling on the Government to make sure shoplifters are treated like criminals and not naughty schoolboys. It is warning the Home Office that it is putting shoplifting on the same level as littering and swearing in public.

The Home Office today (Tuesday) published its latest thinking on tackling anti-social behavior. It includes a measure that would see the current practice of issuing on-the-spot-fines for so called 'minor offences' further watered down. The Government is planning to suspend these fines in cases where offenders agree to a probationary period of good behaviour know as an Acceptable Behaviour Contract (ABC). If they do not offend again for six months the penalty will be dropped entirely.

This measure is designed to tackle anti-social behaviour such as spraying graffiti and littering but shoplifting is also among the offences which, in some circumstances, can be dealt with by an on-the-spot-fine (known as a Penalty Notice for Disorder - PND). As a result there is a danger that deferred PNDs will be used to tackle shoplifters by overworked frontline police officers who are struggling to clear their heavy workloads.

The BRC believes this approach is wholly inappropriate for shoplifting offences, which cost the retail industry more than £2bn each year, and risks further undermining, already dangerously eroded, penalties. It is urging the Home Office to make it clear in its guidance that authorities must not use deferred PNDs when dealing with theft.

The BRC also believes the Home Office should reinforce its existing guidance on PNDs in relation to shoplifting to ensure that they are only ever handed out to first offenders and for offences where the value of the goods stolen does not exceed £200.

BRC Director General Kevin Hawkins said: "Treating shoplifters in the same way as people caught for littering or swearing in public is ludicrous. Shoplifting is a crime, pure and simple, and it should be treated that way. On average shoplifters make off with £150 of goods each time they steal so a slap on the wrist and black mark against the thief's name is no deterrent. We're all under an Acceptable Behaviour Contract, that's what being a law abiding citizen means. Letting thieves off if they don't steal again is rewarding them for what they should be doing anyway.

"The Home Office needs to make sure that the proposed measures, which are designed for minor offences and scallywag behaviour, are not open to abuse. We have already seen on-the-spot-fines handed out to persistent shoplifters. That is against the current guidelines. This move risks further undermining an already dangerously eroded system of penalties for shoplifting.

"What we need from the Home Office is a firm line on retail crime. Would-be thieves need to know that if they do choose to steal then they're going to be dealt with like criminals, not naughty schoolboys."
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