Fines policy attacked

PUBLISHED: 15:22 01 February 2007 | UPDATED: 13:48 04 May 2010

AS the Government prepares to extend on-the-spot fines, Soham shopkeeper Jonathan James, has warned they have been useless in tackling shoplifting. Mr James, who runs Budgens supermarket in the town, hit out as Home Secretary John Reid unveiled plans to

AS the Government prepares to extend on-the-spot fines, Soham shopkeeper Jonathan James, has warned they have been useless in tackling shoplifting.

Mr James, who runs Budgens supermarket in the town, hit out as Home Secretary John Reid unveiled plans to allow fixed penalty notices to be issued for assault.

He fears that the fines, which do not count as a conviction, will lessen respect for the police and could lead to an escalation in crime.

Since the Government allowed £80 on-the-spot fines to be issued for shoplifters, six were handed out in Cambridgeshire in 2004, 148 in 2005 and 116 in the first six months of last year.

But Mr James claims the fixed penalty notices send out the message that shoplifting is OK - and that the thieves will re-offend.

"Shoplifters are thieves and they should be dealt with as such," he said. "They should be made to feel like the criminals that they are.

"These notices keep people out on the streets. Respect for the police diminishes and the law is being represented as spineless. Since they were introduced there has been a meteoric rise in shoplifting."

Mr James, a member of the board of directors of the Association of Convenience Stores, took his concerns to the Sentencing Advisory Secetariat, which reports on sentencing guidelines to the Government.

"The Government's view is that shoplifting is a victimless crime," added Mr James. "But in my situation is has huge costs."

Mr James said figures from the British Retail Consortium reveal that of the 2,000 convenience stores which have closed across the country recently, 300 have gone out of business because of the costs of spiralling crime.

But he praised Ely Police for their support, saying: "They are fantastic. They will arrest the shoplifters and I have been given the option to take out a banning order. I have banned 30 people over the last three or four years and they have not returned.

"If they do come back they are, effectively, burglars - stealing from a shop they don't have access to. That means they can be arrested for shoplifting with aggravated circumstances."

A Home Office spokeswoman said penalty notices had proved very successful and were strongly supported by police as a way of reducing bureaucracy and keeping officers on the beat.

She said: "We believe that it is right to deal with simple, straightforward cases in this prompt and effective way, reserving courts for disputed and more complex cases.

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