Reporting threats of violence or intimidation and abuse in addition to retail theft could lead to more convictions, a senior magistrate has claimed.
Peter Chapman, Chairman of the Sentencing Panel of the Magistrates Association, told a delegation in London that courts have the power to send a stronger deterrent to potential thieves but would be assisted if aggravating circumstances, which are common, were more readily included in crime reports.
Shop staff members often feel numb to the abuse mete out by a small minority of customers and so offences are currently under reported, but Chapman argued at the latest meeting of the Retail Loss Prevention Fashion Forum that by properly punishing repeat offenders occurrences could plummet.
“We do not simply make sentences up, but we always look for aggravating circumstances where planning, abuse or intimidation have been used, as determined by the guidelines,” Chapman explained.
“We have the tools to deal with retail crime offenders fairly but we need to have all of the facts to help us make individual decisions.”
Recent research by the Sentencing Advisory Panel found that among 1,500 cases of store theft only five per cent were committed by first time offenders and on average an individual appearing in court had 19 previous convictions for a total of 42 different offences, 21 of which were for stealing from shops.
Alan Grocott, Head of Security at Next and a member of the Fashion Forum, was pleased to hear Chapman say that the courts felt capable of adequately punishing retail criminals but would like to see more convictions in the future.
Grocott said: “We are not looking for more custodial sentences, but we do want a greater deterrent for first time offenders to stop them from becoming repeat offenders.
“This would free up court time and judicial resources so that they can concentrate on career criminals and organised crime gangs and find ways to deal with those whose lives have become inextricably linked to crime because they are feeding an expensive drug or alcohol habit.”
Concerns over how effective current measures against shoplifters are is reflected by the fact that, of almost 50,000 fixed penalty fines recently issued, 50 per cent were never paid.