Retailers are bracing themselves for a rise in retail crime as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned that the credit crunch will “wipe out” falling statistics recorded over the last year.
However, the BRC, which revealed this week that the number of thefts by customers dropped 26 per cent in the year to April, has rejected calls to scrap on the spot fines in favour of tougher penalties.

BRC director-general Stephen Robertson said: “retailers are preparing for a rapid rise in offences” as they attribute last year’s reductions in crime to economic stability, improved policing and increased spending on crime prevention schemes.

The BRC is opposing a Private Member’s Bill from MP Anne McIntosh that calls for the replacement of Penalty Notices for Disorder fines with a minimum punishment of jail or a community penalty.

The BRC said the£80 on-the-spot fines should remain, but that they should be better enforced, and only used against first-time offenders or thefts below£200 in value.

Removing the fine “risks creating more confusion and leaving shoplifters unpunished”, added Robertson.

About 330,000 shoplifting offences were recorded during the year, one crime every 90 seconds. Employee theft fell 56 per cent. Almost all retailers selling online were affected by fraudulent activity.

The Bill is set to receive its second parliamentary reading in the coming weeks.