Alan Smith

The chief executive of Somerfield responds to an article by Terence Blacker, in which he described histreatment at the hands ofover-zealous store detectives
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The Independent Online

Last weekend there was coverage in national newspapers of one of our store managers who was knifed by a 10-year-old boy caught stealing vodka. On Tuesday, Independent columnist Terence Blacker detailed the problems he had when he came to one of our stores carrying newspapers bought elsewhere ("Supermarket bullies accused me of stealing", 15 August).

Last weekend there was coverage in national newspapers of one of our store managers who was knifed by a 10-year-old boy caught stealing vodka. On Tuesday, Independent columnist Terence Blacker detailed the problems he had when he came to one of our stores carrying newspapers bought elsewhere ("Supermarket bullies accused me of stealing", 15 August).

These days, running a shop is a dangerous business. The stories you won't have read about last weekend included a couple with a toddler who were caught stealing in a small West Country store and turned violent, resulting in three staff being injured.

A shoplifter's tools are no longer long arms and longer pockets, but include fists, knives and even children. A woman borrowed a friend's baby assuming that it would stop us taking action over her theft of two trolley-loads of goods. It didn't, but we were staggered when her solicitor complained that we failed to return her two £1 coins from the trolley slots.

Shoplifting is a multi-million pound industry. Those who do it look - on the whole - just like you and me. They aren't all drug-crazed youths (though there are plenty of those). For retailers, the problem has become an enormous burden. One supermarket says it will sue shoplifters: an extreme measure, but when the cost of prosecution is high and penalties low, then anything that might deter is considered.

In all that wrong being done to us, and in particular to our staff - who sort out the frequently foul-mouthed and violent shoplifters caught in the act - we do sometimes get it wrong ourselves. To Terence Blacker we say "sorry", and we will try to handle such matters better in the future. But to anyone who shops, shoplifting is a problem that just won't go away.

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