The UK's policing minister has called for a "zero tolerance" approach to shoplifting offences.
Police chiefs have been accused of effectively decriminalising thefts of items worth less than £200 since law changes allowed them to be handled by post with just a fine.
However, Chris Philp has told The Telegraph that forces must investigate every shoplifting offence where there is CCTV evidence, including those of lower value.
He said: “The law says that this is still a criminal offence and police should be enforcing it comprehensively.
“Shoplifting affects businesses up and down the country, large and small alike, and often entails violence or threats to retail workers. It should not be tolerated at any level. I expect a zero-tolerance approach to this criminality.”
Figures show that the police fail to attend more than two thirds of serious retail crimes, even though shoplifting costs businesses almost £1 billion a year.
What happens if you get caught shoplifting on camera in the UK?
Shoplifting refers to taking goods from a shop without paying for them first. If caught shoplifting, a person will either will be charged with theft under section 1 of the Theft Act 1986; or, if the goods stolen are worth less than £200, for low-value shoplifting under section 176 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. However, Philp believes if there is video evidence that every thief should be charged, regardless of the value of items taken.
Why are shoplifters not being prosecuted?
The change stems from the requirement in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 for any shoplifting offence less than £200 to be treated as a summary offence, which should be handled through a penalty notice fine of just £70 without the thief having to turn up at magistrates.
Former Scotland Yard detective said that the downgrade had been a green light to police to abandon prosecutions and investigations into such thefts, which could tie up an officer for six to eight hours when they could be tackling more serious crime.
He said in 2021: “The Government has effectively decriminalised shoplifting. Provided a thief stays below the £200 threshold, they are not going to be arrested. Police won’t be called and the worst they get is a fixed penalty of £70 and they are still in profit with £130.”
Philp's intervention comes after Tesco chief executive Ken Murphy said that every store worker would be offered a body camera following an increase in violent attacks on them.
Chairman of Gail’s Bakery, Luke Johnson, has demanded that shoplifting be treated as a “proper crime”, and John Lewis has taken to offering free coffees to passing officers.
“Just having a police car parked outside can make people think twice about shoplifting from our branches,” the head of security for the John Lewis Partnership has said.
What is the punishment for shoplifting?
Currently, shoplifting does not automatically lead to time in prison. If the goods are worth less than £200, the maximum sentence is six months in prison, but this type of offence is usually dealt with by issuing a postal fine. Anything over £200 could lead to a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.