Local MPs, Huw Merriman and Sally-Ann Hart, called a meeting with Sussex Police and local business to discuss the problem of aggressive and persistent shoplifting in their constituencies.
Huw Merriman, MP for the Bexhill and Battle constituency and Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings and Rye, were concerned about the ongoing threats and assaults to shopworkers by persistent shoplifters. They called the meeting to find out what more can be done to support the staff and local businesses by the police and judicial system. They were joined by Cllr Christine Bayliss, Regeneration Lead at Rother District Council who has also been working closely with local businesses and police on this matter.
Stephen Jempson, who runs Jempson’s supermarkets, stores and cafes at a number of locations in their constituencies, hosted the meeting at the Jempson’s Café in Bexhill. He was joined by two of his store managers who shared their experiences of brazen shoplifting, threats and assaults on shopworkers.
Sussex Police Inspectors for Hastings and Rother were present at the meeting and committed to reviewing some recent cases but assured the MPs and Jempson’s that every shop-lifting offence that is reported by retailers is investigated by the police. In cases where offenders were still present and posing a threat are given priority response times but it is essential that every incident is reported. Where perpetrators have left the scene, businesses are encouraged to report the offence and submit CCTV evidence so that offenders can be identified, and their offences collated for arrest and sending to court.
Also discussed at the meeting, were the court sentences handed out to those convicted of shop-lifting and related verbal and physical assaults on staff. There was concern that sentencing did not reflect the severity of the crime, the harm caused to victims or serve as an effective deterrent. The MPs are now arranging to speak to local magistrates and the Ministry of Justice about sentencing guidelines and the effectiveness of the court system when dealing with shoplifting cases.
Speaking after the meeting Huw said “Tackling retail crime is essential to protect shopworkers from some very unpleasant criminals whose behaviour blights our communities. No one should feel unsafe at work or suffer from abuse. I am very pleased that Sussex Police is making retail crime a priority and, with support from the district council, will soon be introducing new facial recognition software to local shops to help identify and alert retailers and police when offenders are in the area. This will help prevent crime and provide evidence for arrest so eventually, those who persistently offend will be spotted as soon as they enter a shop in town.”
Sally-Ann Hart said “All relevant stakeholders need to focus on a zero-tolerance approach towards shoplifting and violence against retail and hospitality businesses. This includes our Courts, which also must adopt a firmer line with persistent shoplifters who are causing untold damage to local residents, individuals and communities. When sentencing offenders, protection of the public must be key, and I have already raised my concerns about this with the Secretary of State for Justice. I am shocked by the abusive and threatening behaviour that shop owners and their staff are frequently subjected to. It is vital that all such incidents, including shoplifting, are reported to the Police. All relevant CCTV footage should be downloaded and saved so that it is available to send to the Police when needed.”
Stephen Jempson, Managing Director of Jempson’s Ltd said “I would like to thank Huw Merriman and Sally Ann Hart along with the Senior Police officers for taking time out to come to the meeting and hear our concerns. I do appreciate that there is a general willingness amongst many to get this situation under control, but I have to be fair to my Store Managers and state that in our opinion not enough is being done by way of deterrents to stop re-offending. To our minds the deterrent must stop the offender from reoffending. This is plainly not happening.”