Retailers attack spot fines for shoplifters

RETAIL groups today attacked the police's use of on the spot fines rather than court action after a more than threefold increase in fines in two years.

RETAIL groups today levelled an attack on police's use of on the spot fines after figures revealed a more than threefold increase in the amount issued in two years.

Statistics obtained by The Evening Star reveal that Suffolk police issued 472 Penalty Notices for Disorder (PNDs) in 2004, 901 in 2005, and 1,460 in 2006 - a two-year rise of 209per cent.

PNDs, which carry a fine of up to £80, came into force in 2004 to tackle low level anti-social behaviour and have been used extensively across the UK to target retail theft.

But they have drawn criticism from some quarters for being soft on crime.

Paul Clement, executive director of Ipswich Central, a group which represents businesses in the town centre, urged police to provide tougher deterrents to curb shoplifting.

He said: “We require strong support from the police and from the courts.

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“Too often shoplifting is seen as something that is not a priority because it's a problem for businesses and not the consumer but that's wholly untrue. If shopkeepers can reduce stock loss, they could reduce prices.

“Often people shoplift because they have other problems which create a need to steal.

“Fining people on the spot is not the solution but it might be part of a more complex system. However, if people are repeat offenders, continued on the spot fines are completely pointless.”

Richard Dodd, from the British Retail Consortium, said PNDs were being used inappropriately nationally.

He said the notices should only be applied when the retailer consented and for first time offences.

Mr Dodd said, on average, the cost to the retailer of a shoplifting offence was £149, making an £80 fine an insufficient deterrent.

Geoff Munns, development manager at Suffolk police's Criminal Justice Service, said the significant rise in the use of PNDs could be explained by the increased use of the sanction by frontline staff coupled with their use as part of pro-active campaigns, such as zero tolerance operations.

n What do you think of the increased use of PNDs? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

PNDs are issued for offences like throwing fireworks, being drunk and disorderly or retail theft under £200.

They can be issued by the police and, in a limited capacity, by community support officers to someone over 16 for either £50 or £80 depending on the severity of the behaviour.

Receiving a penalty notice does not count as getting a conviction.

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