The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has vowed to keep up the pressure on the government to treat shop crime seriously, even though the Sentencing Advisory Panel's (SAP) consultation on theft and dishonesty offences is now closed.

In its submission to SAP, the ACS made it clear there must be strong sentences for offenders found stealing from shops. The panel is expected to announce the outcome of the consultation in the spring,
ACS chiefs have also called for a review of the effectiveness of the Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) scheme, which allows first-time shop theft offenders to be given an on-the-spot fine. In a letter to the under secretary of state for criminal justice, Gerry Sutcliffe, the ACS raised concerns that PNDs, which were introduced in 2004, are being given to persistent offenders.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: "PNDs should not be used as a way of keeping the prison population down and persistent offenders must receive a custodial sentence."

The Home Office recently revealed that since the offence of retail theft was added to the scheme, through to the end of December 2005, more than 230,000 PNDs had been issued. 

Independent retailers are also calling on ministers to act to ensure shop theft is not dismissed as a victimless crime. Mace retailer Tim Lake, who owns Redlands Stores in Fareham, Hampshire, said: "They need to make sure crimes like shoplifting are not dismissed by police and the courts. If there is no real punishment, shoplifters are given carte blanche to offend. 

"It's not just first-time offenders who are given fines; most offenders get off with a slap on the wrist because they can't afford to pay the fine."