Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Shoppers Lifted

The latest Government scheme to take the nasty expensive courts, with their habit of asking awkward questions, out of the 'lower' end of the criminal justice system and to allow police and prosecutors (dear God, if you had seen the CPS staffers that I have seen, you wouldn't let them impose a penalty on your dog) to impose penalties on those who either admit guilt or are intimidated into an admission without any need to trouble a lawyer to come and advise them or who are just plain stupid, treats shoplifting as a simple little bottom-end crime.

Well, up to a point, yes. The vast majority of shoplifters who appear in court are drug addicts desperate to fund their next trip to la-la land. Drug treatment, and only drug treatment, has some chance of sorting them out. Deterrence has no meaning to someone who is an hour overdue for an armful of diamorphine or a noseful of cocaine hydrochloride.

There are, however, a few persistent professional shoplifters (that is not to say that the proceeds don't end up in Afghanistan or Colombia eventually, just that the thieves are relatively organised). London is a magnet for these people, with its plethora of shops selling the highly-resaleable designer goods that offer a lot of value per item nicked.

One such crew commuted down from Glasgow on a cheap day return, and hit Oxford Street. They were good at their work, and in a few hours they had cleared over £10,000 worth of stuff from the rails, undetected. They packed the loot carefully and repaired to the terminus to await their transport home. At this point human frailty took over to spoil their day out. One of their number stole £9 - odd of stuff from W.H.Smith in the concourse, and was captured. The police approached the group, who had been noticed on CCTV, and searched them. After a night in the cells the group appeared before magistrates who popped them off to the Crown Court to be dealt with.

That's almost a little morality tale, isn't it?

Magnus Linklater in The Times gives a good account of the dangerous direction in which we are heading.

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