National file puts shoplifters on display

High-street hi-tech: Retailers list thieves on offender database - and switch on to TV sales
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The Independent Online
A national database of professional shoplifters, which includes photographs and personal details of offenders, is being set up throughout Britain.

The scheme is being pioneered by store owners, particularly Marks & Spencer, with the help of the police.

The clampdown on persistent shop theft is prompted by losses to retailers of about pounds 1.4bn last year. Customer theft accounted for nearly half the losses.

Stores and the police are now setting up a series of information databases around the country to help identify and target the most prolific convicted offenders.

M&S has already recorded a list of its top 200 shop thieves and a national system is about to be put on trial in Scotland. Other schemes already operate in Norwich, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle upon Tyne, and the Merry Hill shopping centre in the West Midlands.

A growing number of retailers are drawing up lists of persistent shoplifters. They obtain details of offenders from court cases and use police photographs and pictures taken by their own surveillance cameras. Each offender has his or her own file which, along with a photograph, contains information such as name, age, description and address.

The files are held by store detectives. The stores swap the lists of their most troublesome customers with other retailers, building up a database of all the convicted shoplifters in the region. In some cases known offenders have been barred from shops.

So far, M&S is one of the few chain stores to operate the scheme nationally, but a growing number of retailers are joining. In the next two months eight retailers - including C&A, BHS, Asda, the Burton Group, the Sears Group, House of Fraser, and M&S - are due to start pilot schemes in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

Each store contributes money to help pay for a central information bank to collate the data about repeat shoplifters. If the shared database is considered a success the stores plan to expand it to cover the whole of Scotland.

David Leigh, M&S project manager for in-store security, said: "In the next six to nine months there will be an extensive network of schemes around the Britain.

"I would like to see a central national database for shop theft. This could be expanded to include other types of offences such as cheque fraud.

"We are trying to be pro-active about this problem which costs us millions of pounds. It's a partnership between retailers and the police, with the awareness of magistrates and the Crown Prosecution Service."

One of the latest police divisions to consider joining the initiative is the Kettering force in Northamptonshire.