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Can Thieves Compensate Business?
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Can Thieves Compensate Business?

The Centre for Retail Research helped to introduce civil recovery to UK retailers, producing a series of reports from 1993 onwards, including Can Shoplifters Compensate Retailers? (published by the Social Market Foundation). Retailer interest in civil recovery led to a Conference of retailers being held. This was followed by the creation of the industry-wide National Civil Recovery Programme, run by the Centre for Retail Research via a new company on behalf of the industry.

What is Civil Recovery?

Civil recovery is the name of a process allowing retailers and other businesses to obtain compensation using the civil law from wrongdoers who cause loss by theft, fraud, damage, trespass, or similar offences. Recovery can be used against staff thieves as well as customer thieves.

How does Civil Recovery work?

Any criminal act that causes loss normally also gives rise to a tort or 'wrong' under civil law. Civil recovery is a method of collecting the damages needed to compensate the retailer by administrative action. The retailer or his agent sends a civil demand to the shop thief a few days after apprehending the offender. This demand sets out the circumstances of the theft, the legal position, the damages claimed, and how these are to be paid. Follow-up letters are used against non-payers.

Rationale for adopting Civil Recovery in Britain

  • The heavy costs of retail crime which are paid by retailers, and which are largely uncompensated.
  • The inability of the police and criminal justice system to deal with the vast numbers of shop thieves. Every year around 550,000 thieves are apprehended and less than 65,000 appear before the courts
  • The need for society to penalise criminal behaviour rather than decriminalising it. By ensuring that retailers obtain recompense from people who are caught stealing, the wider interests of society will be recognised.
  • Retail theft carries low risks - and low costs - for the shop thief. Civil recovery increases the anticipated costs of crime for criminals and will help to deter people from stealing from shops which use civil recovery.
  • Civil recovery will help the retailer to defray some costs of loss prevention.

Does this de-criminalise shop theft?

Civil recovery should never be used to avoid involving the Police. Under the system, thieves will not be given the option of either paying a civil demand or being referred to the police.


The UK National Civil Recovery Programme

The National Civil Recovery Programme is a set of procedures and good practice developed by Joshua Bamfield and the major retailers in the late 1990s/early 2000s on behalf of the retail industry.

A pilot scheme in Wolverhampton tested the applicability of the programme, following which it was expanded to all the UK. Three court cases such as Tesco v Kular and HMV v Plummer were used to check the appropriateness of the programme and the claims that were being made. They were all successful.

Retail Loss Prevention (RLP Ltd) was sold in 2003.

As part of the National Programme, procedures were agreed with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), ACPOS, and the Crown Prosecution Service.