The proposals come from government body the Sentencing Advisory Panel, which has published a consultation document on sentencing guidelines. The panel has proposed that a standard offence should never be dealt with by more than a community order. It is also proposing that a custodial sentence should apply only for shop theft committed by a 'seriously persistent offender'.
"It's ridiculous," said Tim Lake, who owns Redlands Stores in Fareham, Hampshire. "It shows that shoplifting isn't being taken seriously. Fixed-penalty notices are a waste of time as the thieves rarely end up paying them. I'm not saying that every shoplifter should be sent to prison, but the deterrent has to be there."
For Birmingham retailer Paul Hodgkiss, shoplifting is a daily occurrence at his city centre Spar store. He agrees that the threat of a prison sentence must remain. He said: "More has to be done to tackle shoplifting, not less. For some shoplifters who are clearly making money from it, there has to be the threat of jail. However, I understand that for others living on the streets and funding a drug habit, going to prison isn't going to solve anything."
Trade associations including the Association of Convenience Stores and the Rural Shops Alliance have also hit out at the recommendations. ACS chief executive David Rae said it would be seeking further clarity on the definition of a 'seriously persistent offender' and commented: "This proposal sends out entirely the wrong message, especially given the role shop theft plays in anti-social behaviour. Courts need to have available the full range of measures to tackle this crime, and that includes custodial sentences."