The thieves are winning

ENGLAND'S legal system was criticised today after two shoplifters caught red-handed stealing goods worth �530 avoided prosecution.

Colin Adwent

TWO women who stole goods worth more than �500 from Sainsbury's at Warren Heath near Ipswich, will not be prosecuted, it emerged today.

The decision not to charge the middle-aged thieves - who made full admissions of guilt - has led to accusations that shoplifters are being allowed to get away with theft.

The 40-year-old women from Stowmarket were given police cautions after being caught red-handed leaving the store with their trolleys crammed full of goods.

Suffolk Constabulary today defended its decision not to charge them, saying it had followed national guidelines.

However, the lack of a prosecution has left some staff at Sainsbury's feeling furious.

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The thieves are believed to have deliberately tried to disguise the fact they had not paid for the items, which included cosmetics, crisps, meat, and other groceries.

One demoralised shop worker said: “It's disgusting. I don't think the legal system is working at the moment. I think, in general, that thieves are winning. It is very disheartening. It makes you angry.”

However, Suffolk police has said that depending on the circumstances of thefts, officers are allowed to use discretion when dealing with offenders.

In this case the matter was referred to a sergeant at Ipswich police station who took the decision to deal with it, without pursuing it through the courts.

Police spokeswoman Kate Rutsch said: “We take into account any aggravating or mitigating factors.

“The decision was based on the fact that neither woman had previous convictions or cautions, the property was recovered, and that they fully admitted the offences. That decision was taken in line with the Director of Public Prosecutions' guidance on charging.

“In this case it was graded down because it was a full admission (of guilt).

“A caution is given because it is appropriate to the offence and to deal quickly and simply with that offence. It also diverts offenders, where appropriate, from the criminal courts and reduces the likelihood of re-offending.”

Mrs Rutsch confirmed the women had walked out of the shop without paying for the goods in their trolleys. She said a police constable was sent to Warren Heath after security staff stopped and questioned the shoplifters about the theft, which occurred shortly before 10.50am on Good Friday.

Both women were taken to Ipswich police station, where they were offered the opportunity of taking a caution, which was accepted.

A spokesman for Sainsbury's declined to comment, as he said it was a matter for police.

- Do you think there should be a harsher punishment? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

What is a police caution?:-

A 'simple caution' is used to deal quickly and simply with those who commit less serious crimes.

If the culprit offends again, they are likely to be charged unless the second offence is a minor offence unrelated to the first, or

two years or more have elapsed since the original offence

There are no rigid rules about the particular situations in which cautions should be used - this is at the discretion of senior police officers.

The only exceptions are more serious crimes like robbery or assault.

A simple caution is not a criminal conviction, but it will be recorded on the police database.

The record will remain on the police database along with photographs, fingerprints and any other evidence taken.

Source: Home Office - www.homeoffice.gov.uk