Tesco, Boots and a host of high street giants are using a "deceitful" and "unfair" system to seek hundreds of pounds in compensation payouts from petty shoplifters, a report claimed today.
One former shopworker at Boots was sacked and fined more than £600 by a store for taking £5 in vouchers while a customer at the store was fined £87 after her two-year-old child opened a drink without paying, evidence in a Citizens Advice Bureau paper showed.
The report entitled Unreasonable Demands? also claimed Tesco fired a member of staff and attempted to fine him more than £190 through Retail Loss Prevention for the alleged theft of £4.
Urging the Government to clamp down on stores for using the unregulated measures, the report concluded: "The Ministry of Justice should undertake an urgent review of the law relating to civil recovery, with a view to ensuring - by legislative means if necessary - that civil recovery is limited to cases involving serious, determined or persistent criminal activity for which there has been a criminal trial and conviction."
A spokesman for the bureau said its clients were being targeted for compensation even when police were not involved.
He said: "The Citizens Advice Bureau in England and Wales have been dealing with increasing cases of clients who, accused of shoplifting or employee theft, are then pursued for substantial sums of money as compensation for the 'loss and damage caused by your wrongful actions'. Criminal charges are rarely brought and often the police aren't even called.
"In some cases the intent to shoplift is questionable. Clients are then surprised to receive a letter demanding a large sum of money, weeks after the event, when they had thought the issue was resolved."
The threats may breach guidance from the Office of Fair Trading, the bureau said.
A spokesman added: "We believe the manner in which these requests for payment are made, and the threat of escalating costs and court action may constitute 'deceitful', 'unfair' and 'improper' business practice, as defined by the OFT.
"Whilst Citizens Advice doesn't condone crime of any kind and does not underestimate the cost to retailers, we believe that if retailers are dissatisfied with the level of governmental action against retail crime, and seek civil redress, they must do so using means that are transparently fair and proper.
"Unreasonable Demands? sets out recommendations to the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, The British Retail Consortium and others that civil recovery should be limited to cases involving serious or persistent offences for which there has been a criminal conviction."