The government is prepared to “build more prisons” to accommodate prolific shoplifters because they deserve to be locked up, a minister has said after a recent reports showed alarming rise in retail crime and police negligence over the matter.
Tougher sentences are being planned for several offences in a crime and justice bill that will require judges to impose custody on those caught repeatedly.
Richard Holden, a transport minister, told LBC Radio: “I think there has been an issue where sometimes the police haven’t concentrated enough on some of these offences. But they really do have a huge impact on our high streets and shops right across the country.
“If people are particularly prolific on that, then yes, they do need jail time. But I think sometimes that on top of that you need to tackle some of those underlying causes, such as drug addiction . . . which will often lead them to a life of crime. So I’m all in favour of locking people up, if they persistently break the law.”
“If people are persistently breaking the law, then they should go to jail, and if we need to build more prison places for them, then so be it.”
Shoplifting, burglary, theft and common assault do not necessarily result in a jail sentence at present but would do so after a number of offences are committed, similar to the two-strikes-and-out policy on knife crime. The number of offences required would vary by the type of crime.
According to recent figures, in the 12 months to March, the police recorded 339,206 cases of shoplifting. Only 48,218 incidents of shoplifting recorded by the police, or 14 per cent, resulted in charges, whereas 183,450 investigations, or 54 per cent, were closed with no suspect being identified.
Meanwhile, Chris Philp, the policing minister, has also called on police forces to make greater use of live facial recognition technology and artificial intelligence to match known shoplifters with images on the police national computer. At present only the Metropolitan Police and South Wales police do so regularly, The Times reported.
Philp has also urged security guards to make more citizen’s arrests of shoplifters, citing a change in the law that allows the power to apply to shoplifting when the goods are worth less than £200.
Retailers that have tested such tech (including the Co-op, Spar, Budgens, Costcutters and Sports Direct) usually sent a staff member to approach any known shoplifter- about whom system alerted- to ask if they need any help. Reports stated that shoplifting has fallen in stores where such a technology is being used and there has been a 20 per cent drop in assaults against retail workers.
Last week, Co-op released a report showing highest level of shoplifting in its history and blaming police for failing to crack down on violent gangs of thieves.