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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 during the ABC, which can last for as little as three months.
Retailers and trade associations say that the proposals make a mockery of on-the-spot fines.
Londis retailer Ramesh Shingadia, from Southwater, West Sussex, said: "The law is going soft on the whole issue of shoplifting. A fine will hurt a lot more than a slap on the wrist. Shoplifting really affects retailers, many of whom are struggling to make a living, and can often be the first step 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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Kath Morrill:

We think this ruling is appalling! We have just caught a 'lovely' old couple, on camera (total system cost £2,000!), stealing from our shop. If we supply the footage & stills & staff statements to the police they will only be fined £80 AND may have this deferred/cancelled? We are tempted to take up shoplifting ourselves as it is evidently far more lucrative than running a deli!!