Two-pronged drive against shoplifters will be extended

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The Independent Online
A PILOT scheme that prosecuted shoplifters for a civil offence as well as a crime is to be rolled out across Britain after three-quarters of stores involved reported a significant reduction in losses from theft.

The civil recovery trial scheme in the West Midlands allowed big retailers such as Tesco, HMV, Bhs, Littlewoods, Superdrug, Boots and B&Q to recover losses and expenses from the perpetrators of each act of theft.

Organisers estimate that retailers lose between pounds 60 and pounds 150 from each shoplifting offence and retail crime costs almost pounds 2 billion a year in the UK.

Once it is introduced around Britain, the proceeds from the civil recovery scheme will be split between charities and crime prevention.

It is estimated that the expansion of the scheme by 25 major retailers should see every town and city in the UK becoming part of the programme by August 2000. The scheme, which has the support of the British Retail Consortium, is already operated in 400 individual stores

By November it is expected to be introduced to more than 5,000 additional shops and supermarkets.

Professor Joshua Bamfield, who co-ordinates the scheme for the Centre for Retail Research in Nottingham, said yesterday that the first civil cases resulting from the West Midlands pilot are expected to be heard within the next six weeks. He added: "Civil recovery has been welcomed by the public. Civil recovery is linked to crime prevention initiatives and has been another success story for co-operation between retailers and the police.

"Civil penalties are to be imposed on thieves as well as criminal penalties."

He said a survey of 550 shoppers in the West Midlands area had revealed that 91.5 per cent said they supported civil recovery against shop thieves and initial results from the trial showed that 75 per cent of stores involved said they had witnessed a fall in losses due to shoplifting. They also saw a 35 per cent fall in the number of theft cases compared with the same period in the previous year.

The scheme will be introduced to Britain's busiest shopping street - Oxford Street in London - early next year.