Christmas orders rush in for professional shoplifter: Anne goes stealing three times a week for her 'customers'. John Arlidge reports

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The Independent Online
ANNE goes shoplifting three times a week. It is her job, she says, and as Christmas approaches, she is not only working for herself but taking orders from others.

'People are always coming up and saying, 'The money's on the table if you can get me this for the children',' she said. 'This is the busiest time of the year for me. It's been crazy. I have not had time to do my own Christmas shoplifting yet.'

Anne, 40, is well-known on Princes Street in Edinburgh where she lives. Her picture is displayed in the department stores and boutiques on Scotland's busiest shopping street alongside warnings that she is a 'professional'.

Extra security in the run-up to Christmas has made her 'job' more difficult but she insists she can still complete most orders. 'With all the new in-store cameras you are always waiting for the hand on the shoulder,' she said.

'It is getting harder to maintain standards and keep regular customers happy but I can normally get round the system. The knack is to go very early in the morning before all the security guards are on duty and when the sales staff are still setting up. They just don't notice what is going on. On a good day I can get away with around pounds 300 worth of stuff.'

Anne says she receives so many orders because she is known as the 'most reliable' shoplifter in Edinburgh.

'I'm one of the few people who can remove all types of security tag without damaging the goods,' she boasts. Children's presents - in particular clothes, computer games, make-up kits and dolls - are the most requested items this Christmas.

The prices she charges for the goods she steals vary according to how well she knows her customers. 'I have a simple rule - half the marked price for ordinary clients and one-third for friends.' It was her mother, also a shoplifter, who introduced her to the 'trade' when she was 16 and she soon began started stealing to fund her heroin addiction.

Twenty-four years and two nine-month prison sentences later, she insists that theft is the only way she can make a living.

'I have tried to work but it has not been a success. I was fired once for taking drugs. Now, I only get pounds 72.60 from the social security which is not enough to support my two sons. Their father is unemployed and he does not give me anything. I have to graft a living in some way and I am not doing it on my back.'

With just one 'shoplifting day' to go before Christmas, Anne says she has enough money to buy her children's presents. 'Buy? I know it sounds funny,' she said. 'But they want a pool table and bikes and I'm afraid not even I am that good.'