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Retailers have accused the government of going soft on shoplifters in the light of new Home Office guidance.

Under latest proposals, which were announced at the end of a 12-week consultation, offenders who are given an on-the-spot fine or Penalty Notice for Disorder, (PND) can have their fines deferred if they sign an Acceptable Behaviour Contract (ABC).

The fine will then be cancelled if the offender behaves under the ABC, which can be in place for as little as three months.

Retailers and trade associations say that the proposals make a mockery of the current system of on-the-spot fines.

Londis retailer Ramesh Shingadia, from Southwater, West Sussex said: “I think the law is getting very soft on the whole issue of shoplifting. A fine will hurt a lot more than just a slap on the wrist. Shoplifting really affects retailers, many of whom are struggling to make a living, and for offenders it and can often be the first step on to other crime. The ABC process may be a way of making a few people reflect but I don’t think it’s the ultimate solution.”

The British Retail Consortium criticised the scheme for treating criminals ‘like naughty schoolboys’, while the Association of Convenience Stores, (ACS), labelled the proposals as ‘ridiculous’.

ACS public affairs manager Shane Brennan said: “The ACS already has big concerns that shop thieves are not paying fines when they are issued. There needs to be a proper deterrent in place. We are calling for a larger review of the whole fixed penalty notice system and bitterly oppose this latest proposal.”

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