Thieves have been taken to court by a private police force for the first time in Britain amid concern from victims that forces are failing to pursue “low-level” crimes.
Fifteen shoplifters and a pickpocket are due to appear before magistrates in the next two months after being summonsed by the private policing company which has CCTV footage of the thefts, body worn video confessions, and witness statements to support its prosecutions.
They were either caught red-handed or arrested in the street by its officers before its investigators and lawyers put together the prosecution cases.
One prolific shoplifter who admitted stealing Gucci perfume from a London store has already been convicted and will be sentenced in September.
In April, the Telegraph reported how the police are bringing fewer offenders to court, as the graphic below shows.
David McKelvey, a former Met Police detective chief inspector and founder of TM Eye, said they had launched the prosecution service after becoming frustrated with the police’s refusal to prosecute shoplifters caught by its officers.
“The police would either not turn up or when they did, they literally took the handcuffs off the shoplifters, told them not to be a naughty boy, and not to do it again. Within hours, those people were committing offences in a different shop or even the same shop,” he said.
“It was a charter for shoplifters to commit offences. We tried to persuade the police at a senior level to change their approach and to push them down the road of more enforcement action.
“Then we decided that if we could get a name and address and sufficient evidence, we will not waste the police’s time and we will mount the prosecution. In reality, it works. We are not tying up police resources.”
The move follows a Government plea last week to police chiefs to prosecute shoplifters stealing under £200 after complaints from retailers that forces have abandoned low-level thefts.
Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, is writing to chief constables saying the theft of goods valued up to £200 from a shop “should be prosecuted as a criminal offence.”
Mr McKelvey’s company, TM Eye, started by specialising in investigating and prosecuting counterfeit and fake goods rackets. It says it has brought more than 500 successful prosecutions working with police forces internationally, the FBI, and Federal Drugs Administration (FDA) in five years.
It launched My Local Bobby two years ago to provide residents, local firms and shops with neighbourhood policing to combat burglaries, criminal damage and other anti-social behaviour.
Its 30 “bobbies”, who are uniformed with red vests and caps, provide cover 24/7 for up to 250 houses and businesses on each beat. It promises to have a response at the scene within five minutes, for a fee of £100 to £200 a month per household.
Its “bobbies” are largely drawn from the ranks of former police officers and the military, and are accredited with the Security Industry Authority (SIA) with most also close-protection trained.
It has added the prosecution service to its contract with central London shops and businesses and hopes it will be self-financing by recouping costs through the courts.
Its prosecutions are recorded on the police national computer through an agreement that means it contributes to police conviction and clear-up rates. Only one in 80 thefts (1.3 per cent) currently result in the offender being charged as “low-harm” crime has been de-prioritised by police.
“Police have moved away from these prolific offences, so-called low-level offending, although shoplifting costs some shops £10,000-£15,000 a week,” said Mr McKelvey.
“That’s now been cut by 60 to 80 per cent. The shoplifters realise there’s a good chance they are going to get caught and 100 per cent chance that you are going to be prosecuted. We are giving the retail outlets another option.”
Nicholas Richards, a career criminal with 25 convictions including 18 for shoplifting, was the first to be prosecuted for stealing £170 of perfume from Boots. He is due to be sentenced on September 4.
A woman pickpocket caught stealing a wallet is due to appear before magistrates on August 17. As the courts re-start, a further 13 shoplifters have been summonsed for theft.
Retailers welcomed the initiative but urged police to act on Mr Malthouse’s request.
Tom Ironside, director of regulation at the British Retail Consortium, said: “These measures demonstrate how retailers feel compelled to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure action is taken to address retail crime. Police forces must consistently and effectively respond to all retail crime.”
A Met Police spokesman said: “Individuals and businesses are entitled to employ security companies to provide additional safety for themselves or their premises – this is not a new development.
'The Met works closely with these companies, as well as carrying out regular patrols in and around central London. Dedicated Safer Neighbourhood Teams work closely with partners such as the Business Improvement Districts and local businesses to keep the area a safe place to live, work and visit.
“When information is provided to police, this will be assessed and acted on accordingly. Officers have to decide the most appropriate course of action for the given circumstances and this can range from arrest to issuing a community resolution.”