The Sentencing Advisory Panel (SAP) last week made a U-turn from earlier plans which considered the removal of custodial sentence for shop theft. Its recommendations to the Sentencing Guideline Council now say that, while the starting point for theft from a shop without any aggravating features should be a non-custodial sentence such as a fine or community order, for an aggravated shop theft - such as one which causes injury or where the offender has already been banned from the store - a prison sentence should be the starting point.
The recommendations also recognise the fact that a greater level of harm may be caused when the theft takes place from a small store.
However, some grey areas remain as another recommendation states that if an offence is committed in 'desperation' or 'need' arising from particular hardship, it may count as personal mitigation in 'exceptional circumstances'.
Londis retailer Arjan Mehr said he was pleased the panel had recommended the threat of a prison sentence remained. He told Convenience Store: "The government can't give the impression it's okay to shoplift. Persistent shoplifters have to be punished properly. The most serious criminals have to start somewhere and the government has to realise it will cost them more in the long term if they fail to nip criminal behaviour in the bud.
"If someone is let off because of desperation such as a drug habit, then there has to be further support for that person or they will simply shoplift again."
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) called the recommendations a "victory of common sense", but said it remained concerned that the seriousness of shop theft is not being reflected in the way that offences are dealt with.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: "This is a crime that costs our industry millions, challenges the livelihood of businesses and has to be taken seriously by all."