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New town centre exclusion zone to crack down on prolific shoplifters

It's been revealed that offenders are 'stealing to order' and selling stolen wares in pubs

Model posing as a shoplifter

A new ‘exclusion zone’ to crack down on prolific shoplifters operating in Accrington town centre has been introduced after brazen offenders were uncovered ‘stealing to order’.

Under the new strategy to deter shop crime, Hyndburn Borough Council will apply to the Courts for Criminal Behaviour Orders to ban known thieves from coming into the town centre - and police can arrest them on sight if they breach the order.

Hyndburn council leader Miles Parkinson said the alarm was raised when it was revealed that offenders were selling their stolen wares in pubs leading to ‘stealing to order’ as people began to commission regular offenders to steal certain items.

Coun Parkinson told the Observer that this led to ‘gangs’ in Accrington who were frequently committing shoplifting offences, and that urgent action needed to be taken.

Coun Parkinson said: “We have now created a zone where shoplifters will have to keep out of the area. Where it was the odd shoplifter it’s now grown into gangs, thieving to order. One or two has grown to eight or nine, it seemed to be now getting common place.

“We gained information that they were going into public houses and freely selling the products and individuals were making requests to steal items, so we had a licensing crackdown, working with the pub landlords highlighting that [if] known individuals [are] selling stolen goods in your licensed premises [it will] put your licence in jeopardy.

“We have also worked with a certain site in the borough where known individuals were meeting.”

Earlier this year, we revealed claims that shoplifting and town centre burglaries had got worse, with 1,300 reported shoplifting incidents in the space of three years.

PC Graham Hartley said that thieves had also been stopping people in the street and offering to sell them goods at a ‘discount price’, and asking whether they ‘require anything’, a system they term ‘stealing to order’.

PC Graham Hartley of the Hyndburn Neighbourhood Policing Team.

But Coun Parkinson would not confirm how many pubs had been highlighted as concerns, but said certain public houses were visited by licensing officers and letters were sent to all landlords informing them of the requirements of their licence.

He added: “Where a prolific shoplifter is unwilling to change their offending behaviour, the courts will be asked to issue a Criminal Behaviour Order.

“The order will bar the individual from entering the town centre and where appropriate require the individual to attend suitable treatment to address their dependency issues. If a prolific shoplifter breaches the order by entering the town centre they can be arrested before they get the opportunity to shoplift.”

Aziz Ahmad, who runs AZ Phones on Peel Street, said he has been targeted by shoplifters four times in the last two years, and welcomed the new tactic.

He said: “This is a good thing if they put a ban on these shoplifters, they shouldn’t be allowed to walk around in the town.

“I know that it is happening, a lot of times they come in and nick the phone and tablet and accessories as well. But they never seem to catch anybody.

“They come in sometimes, two or three guys and distract you. I have had people try and sell me stolen phones as well, and when you say you won’t buy it they stand outside and try to sell it to people passing through.”

Aziz Ahmad, who runs AZ Phones on Peel Street, has welcomed the new tactic

‘Epidemic threatens shop survival’

The multi-agency crackdown aims to tackle an ‘epidemic’ of shoplifting which is threatening the survival of businesses in Accrington.

Accrington Police say shopkeepers have produced impact statements saying they are struggling to absorb the heavy losses caused by prolific shoplifters in the town, with some stores being targeted ‘daily’.

PC Graham Hartley, who heads up the Accrington town centre policing team, said: “A number of the shopkeepers are struggling in Accrington town centre at the moment, these people are coming into Accrington, shoplifting in their stores putting their staff and jobs at risk because they are saying they can’t afford to keep having these losses.

“They are saying how they feel harassed, alarmed, distressed by these shoplifters coming in their stores.”

Five known offenders have so far been given a civil Community Protection Warning with conditions to abide by, which if breached will be followed by a Community Protection Notice and then a Criminal Behaviour Order can be put in place by magistrates. This order bans the individual from entering the town centre, and they can be arrested if they do so.

PC Hartley said they had to take new steps to tackle the problem because it had become a ‘vicious circle’ whereby criminals would be caught and appear in court, but continue to offend - often to fund an ongoing substance abuse problem.

He said: “You put them before the courts but the magistrates have only got a certain amount of powers and the prisons are full. The problem is they will come back to Accrington town centre and continue with their shoplifting offences again. It’s a revolving door.

“Some of the businesses are struggling already to keep their head above water and the impact that these shoplifters is huge. Some days they will steal from a store in the morning, go before magistrates in the afternoon and then come back to that same store again. It can happen on a daily basis.”

He added: “We had to implement something to try and protect Accrington town centre and the staff members and the public and we have got a multi agency approach to try and combat and prevent the epidemic of shoplifting in Accrington town centre.”

Council leader Miles Parkinson said: “These are difficult times for town centre retailers across the country, as shoplifting can have a significant impact on a business and can threaten their very existence. Dealing with the entrenched behaviour of prolific shoplifters is challenging but the approach we are implementing in Hyndburn will make it difficult for them to offend in the first place.

“We’re working in partnership to address the issue and also ensure that shoplifters with drug and alcohol dependency receive the right support to address these issues.”

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