Retailers in Leicester are trying a new way of punishing shoplifters which involves making offenders perform menial tasks in public.

Many feel that the method, known as 'restorative justice', is much more effective than pursuing a criminal prosecution or an on-the-spot fine.

A Boots store in the city centre was the first to trial the system after catching a group of female shoplifters. Instead of receiving police cautions, the first-time offenders were asked to wash staff cars and sweep the car park on a busy Saturday morning.

Independent retailer Raj Aggarwal, who owns two Londis stores in Leicester, said he thought the scheme was a good idea. He said: "Dragging people through the courts is a long-winded process, which very often results in no more than a slap on the wrist. However, a retailer using restorative justice wins on two levels: he gets something back for the crime committed against his store; and it's also more likely that the person caught will not re-offend."

Dick Pollard, community initiatives co-ordinator for city centre police, said: "Shoplifting can have a huge impact on staff as well as the business. This scheme means offenders are given one chance to redeem themselves and reflect on what they have done."