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Secret strip brings thieves to book

Shoplifting crackdown: Stores use device to keep hidden eye on customers

Media Correspondent

Peter Rabbit has been tagged by Dillons bookstores in the first UK trials of a secret device to identify book thieves.

It could cut thefts of Beatrix Potter - a shoplifter's favourite - down to nothing, if initial findings are accurate.

The system involves inserting a thin three-inch magnetic strip under the spine during the printing process. When the book is bought it is de- magnetised at the till so that it does not set off an alarm when removed from the store.

The system differs from the present flawed and time- consuming process of manually inserting the magnetic strips between the pages - which can be shaken out by shoplifters.

In a two-week experiment last month, the spines of 10 Beatrix Potter titles, which have always sold well, were fitted with the magnetic tags in their spines and filmed on open display in stores around Britain.

In contrast to previous experience, few of the books were removed - legally or otherwise. Footage from concealed cameras revealed customers rifling randomly through the books, apparently in search of the removable tags. When they could not find them, they left the books alone.

"Some stores don't have equipment to log the movement of books and we've always wondered if they were going out of the door in a customer's bag or a Dillons bag," said Ken Harwood, security director of Dillons, from his anonymous London base. "Now we know."

The festive season is the jolliest for shoplifters, but all year round chains such as Dillons and Waterstone's suffer up to 3 per cent shrinkage. The culprits defy stereotyping."There's the man who steals A to Zs from one of our London stores and sells them outside cut-price," says Ray Winter, security operations manager for Dillons. "And there's the guy who advertised on the Internet for students' reading lists. He'd steal the books for them and charge half the cover price."

Then there was the "awayday businessman" who stole books from a different city every day and sold them to second-hand bookshops, and the executive who commuted to London from Leicester to steal books at precisely 11.30 every morning until his wife found out - she was unaware that he had lost his job.

All were captured on film by cameras with lenses the size of a pinhead hidden behind the bookshelves, in the lifts, inside smoke alarms and behind posters inside the busiest Dillons stores.

The one in the lift at the Gower Street store in central London was particularly effective - catching out a young female executive and a pony- tailed middle- aged man with a hidden compartment in his briefcase.

The solution could be the new system of tagging. The problem is persuading the publishers to install the expensive new machinery in their printing plants.

They have little to gain - the shops carry the cost of the thefts, and are forced to order extra copies to replace the books that vanish.

Most stolen books

1. The Beatrix Potter tales

2. Winnie The Pooh books

3. Danielle Steele - all titles

4. Illustrated art books

5. Terry Pratchett: Maskerade

6. New Age books (especially in Exeter and Southampton)

7. Pevsner's architectural guides

8. World Atlases

9. Local guides

10. The London A to Z streetfinder.

UK bestsellers

1. Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time

2. Edith Holden: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady

3= Peter Mayle: A Year in Provence

3= Rosemary Conley: The Complete Hip and Thigh Diet

5 Delia Smith: Delia Smith's Complete Illustrated Cookery Course

6 David Attenborough: Life on Earth

7 Delia Smith: Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course

8 Sue Townsend: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4

9=Jacob Bronowski: The Ascent of Man

9= Christopher Brickell: RHS Gardeners' Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers