Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Nation Of Criminalised Shopkeepers

They were valued once

A small shopkeeper has just been fined £250 for hitting back against thieves:

"Jacob Smyth chased three youths out of his hardware shop in Penzance, Cornwall, when he was set upon. When he was kicked in the groin by one of the hooded youths who had stolen cans of spray paint Mr Smyth hit back.

Police issued fixed penalty tickets to the shoplifters but charged Mr Smyth and a colleague with assault.

Yesterday he pleaded guilty to assault at Truro Magistrates’ Court. He claimed after the hearing that he had been advised to plead guilty because otherwise he could have faced a six month prison sentence."

Absolutely abysmal.

Mr Smyth added: “I did nothing wrong. I was getting a good beating from this lad. I had no choice but to defend myself.

“We get shoplifters all the time one after the other. We call the police but nothing is ever done. We called them on this occasion and ran after the lads to try and get my property back but then they turned on us. “Am I not allowed to protect my stock and premises from thieves?”

The answer is of course "no".

The police may be completely useless when it comes to protecting any of us from anything, but small shopkeepers get an especially raw deal.

At root, the government doesn't even acknowledge shoplifting as a crime worthy of the name. Its chosen measure of crime, the British Crime Survey, specifically excludes shoplifting, and indeed all other crime committed on commercial premises (eg see this from Civitas).

So, despite the fact that it's running at an estimated £2bn pa, they introduced these non-criminalising fixed penalty notices. As the British Retail Consortium says:

"Retailers feel police don't take retail crime seriously - it is way, way down on their list of priorities.

At government level sentencing is so weak that people are just not put off stealing from shops."

The government's unspoken view is that crime against business is victimless (cf credit card fraud). Businesses can afford it, and ministers have got all those much more important priorities. Besides, if all crime was properly declared, the survey's total crime figure would at least double (see Civitas).

At least the big retailers can "afford" (translation: pass the cost onto honest shoppers) to employ permanent security guards and "always prosecute" (doubtless they also have longstop arrangements with Mr Gomulka's Social Outreach team).

Small shopkeepers can't afford any of that. They are fully exposed to the incompetence and indifference of government. On their own in terms of protecting their property, if they actually dare to take action themselves, as like as not, they will be the ones who find themselves criminalised.

But many more of them will soon be picking up criminal records as a consequence of Fascist Nanny's new "smokefree" Britain.

As we've mentioned before, on 1 October, the government is increasing the customer age at which it's legal to sell tobacco products from 16 to 18.

Good thing too you say.

And yes, it is.


It must be.

Well, let's gloss over the obvious fact that this will drive even more of the tobacco market into the hands of smugglers (see this blog).

Let's also gloss over the obvious fact that it's changing attitudes rather than yet more regulation that surely has the real impact on smoking. Attitudes have been transformed over the last 30 years, with a huge fall in the percentage smoking:

Let's consider instead how it's going to work at the level of the small shop. Because the Village Postmaster and his fellow small tobacco retailers are much exercised about this.

In essence, their problem is that the government, in the much fancied shape of "that Flint woman" (see splendidly unflattering biog here), is placing all the onus for enforcing the new regulation on shopkeepers. Whereas shopkeepers will face the full penalty of the criminal law if they mistakenly sell ciggies to an under-18 year old, the adolescent miscreant him/herself will walk off scot free. Half-baked and unfair.

What's more, small shopkeepers are very concerned about the abuse and worse they will receive when they refuse to serve hulking great hoodie teenagers, especially the ones between 16 and 18 who've previously been served. They know the police won't help, so what will they do?

The Postmaster is so concerned, he wrote to his MP. Who wrote to Ms Flint. Her all too predictable reply is "tough" (see here for Postmaster's enraged spittle-flecked response).

Caroline does say she's working "to ensure that further detailed guidance is available about how staff to deal with difficult and abusive customers. This guidance will be sent to retailers over the summer."

Gawd knows what drivel that will be, but meanwhile following his regular Friday night beverage with Mr Gomulka, the Major has come up with some alternative suggestions :
1. Keep a baseball bat behind the counter
2. Use it
3. Remember to wipe the CCTV tapes

Small shopkeepers have zero traction over the governmnet or the local police. They used to pay business rates to their own local authorities giving them some clout in setting local priorities. No longer. Their business rates just disappear into the Big Black Pot along with all the other tax they pay (and collect).

They're on their own.

And heading for jail.

PS A further alternative to the Major's suggestion of course is to stock Mountain Dew and hope Mr Seagal becomes a customer:

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