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Retailers warned shoplifters could be spared jail time as crime rates rise

Chloe Burney
15 February 2024

As shoplifting crimes rise to an all-time high, retailers have been warned that these criminals could be excused from prosecution and jail time to tackle court backlogs and overcrowded UK prisons.

Sir Max Hill, the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), told The Telegraph that the Government should consider dealing with acquisitive crimes such as shoplifting outside the court system through schemes designed to tackle the causes of the criminality.

Sir Max said: "We should be looking again at whether it is necessary to take every case into court. I don’t mean offences of violence. I certainly don’t mean sexual crimes but some acquisitive crimes. Shoplifting, for example."

Durham police’s Checkpoint scheme, for example, has cut reoffending rates by burglars, shoplifters and thieves by sparing them prosecution in return for them agreeing to undergo rehabilitation for problems such as mental illness.

Under the scheme, offenders could walk away without a conviction so long as they complete a four-month programme. If they do not, they are prosecuted in court. Of the first 2,6609 offenders involved in the trial, only 166 (6%) reoffended.

Sir Max added: "By taking cases out of court, they have reduced recidivism even for frequent shoplifters. That’s one point that we should look at again."

Earlier this month, it was revealed that prisons are on course to run out of space by spring. There are a mere 550 spaces left in men’s jails and the male prison population is at 99.35% of capacity.

It comes as ministers pile pressure on police to crackdown on shoplifting, which has seen the number of offences pass 400,000 in a year for the first time.

Just yesterday, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned that customer theft doubled to 16.7 million incidents a year, up from eight million. Shoplifting cost retailers about £1.8 billion in the latest year, the highest recorded amount and the first time it has surpassed the £1 billion mark, the BRC said.

The backlog of cases in the court system is now at a record high and double the pre-pandemic level.

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