In recent weeks, the government published the full details of its Anti-Social Behaviour Bill. The ACS has been heavily involved with the development of the new policies, which could make a real difference to retailers that are affected by crime in their stores. The ‘community trigger’ for example will make it impossible for police to ignore retailers when they report repeat incidents of the same crime. Retailers will also benefit from business impact statements, giving an opportunity for store owners to give a statement to court about the impact of crime on their staff – a policy which we called for directly in our submission on the issue earlier this year.
These measures have been well considered and government listened carefully to views from those affected. It is therefore a great shame that at the last minute, a new clause has been added to the Bill, which could potentially undermine all of these positive measures by changing the way the criminal justice system treats shop theft offences.
Clause 133 aims to downgrade the seriousness of shop theft under the value of £200 to a ‘summary offence’, making it similar in nature to minor traffic offences such as staying in the middle lane of a motorway for too long. This is an important change, undertaken without consultation and the reasons for it are unclear.
In a debate on the Bill in Parliament, local shop champion Priti Patel MP implored the government to clarify the new rules and ensure that a courts ability to punish shop thieves was not undermined. The All Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group has also written to Home Office minister Jeremy Browne about the impact of the new proposals, and called on him to reassure retailers that they will not lead to fewer convictions. We will continue to rally MPs to support tough sanctions against shop thieves, and we urge you to explain to your local MP how damaging shop theft is to your store.