An independent retailer and serving magistrate has criticised the issuing of on-the-spot fines for shoplifters because he says most offenders simply tell the courts they can't afford to pay.

Leamington Spa Londis retailer Sunder Sandher's comments come after new figures revealed less than half of the fines (42%) issued in 2006 were actually paid. The statistics, released by the Ministry of Justice, also show that the number of fixed penalty notices (FPNs) issued to shop thieves increased by 75% to 38,772 in 2006. Just 16,169 of these have been paid in full.

Sunder told Convenience Store that the current system was failing and that offenders knew how to work the system. He said: "The problem is that they often say they lack the means to pay. The guidelines say the fines have to be paid within a year, but if they say they can afford only £1 a week this obviously can't be done."

Sunder added that although police officers are expected to issue fines only for first offences, offenders often have more than one FPN to their name, making full payment almost impossible. "It would be better to give them unpaid community work or to introduce a system of tagging offenders at certain times of the day," he said. "At the moment, retailers are too soft a target."
The Association of Convenience Stores has called for an urgent review of the current fines system.

Chief executive James Lowman said: "It is increasingly obvious that fixed penalty notices do not deter thieves. We are concerned that police in many parts of the country are not following the guidance and this has to be considered as part of a review."