Young shoplifters asked to work in city stores

Ben KendallYoung people caught shoplifting in Norwich are being given a second chance as they are asked to repay the community by working weekend shifts at city centre businesses.Ben Kendall

Young people caught shoplifting in Norwich are being given a second chance as they are asked to repay the community by working weekend shifts at city centre businesses.

From pot washing in restaurants to helping out in charity shops, the Month of Sundays initiative introduced by city police gives youngsters an opportunity to show remorse without damaging their long-term prospects by getting a criminal record.

The scheme has been introduced by the city centre Safer Neighbourhood team and officers say they have already seen positive results.

As well as carrying out weekend work for a month, young people are forced to confront the consequences of their crimes and sit down with their parents and officers to discuss the importance of staying out of trouble,

Insp Ross McDermott, who leads the city centre team, said: 'This is in its early days but we have already seen it help a number of young people. Most shoplifters are young people, often girls between 13 and 15, who have become involved in crime because of peer pressure or because it seems like something that might impress their friends.

'On the whole young people don't make very good shoplifters and they are easily caught.

Most Read

'What we don't want to do is criminalise a whole generation of young people who have made a mistake and, if dealt with properly, probably won't commit another offence in their lives. There will always be serious or prolific offenders who we will deal with through the courts but this is a chance to stop youngsters ruining their lives.

'We have been using restorative justice for some time now. It allows young people to face up to what they've done, understand the impact it has and make amends. It also allows businesses to get something back.'

Shoplifting is one of the biggest issues faced by the city centre team and it usually peaks during school holidays. For example 167 crimes were recorded over the Christmas period.

The most commonly targeted stores are high street clothes and cosmetics stores and low value items, such as make-up, are often stolen.

Shopkeepers cautiously welcomed the scheme but said they would want reassurance before welcoming somebody caught stealing into their business.

Tina Sayer, an employee at Planet News in Norwich city centre, said: 'Everybody deserves a second chance, but you would have to be careful what position you put them in. I believe that a leopard does not change its spots. I know that's cynical but I would not be comfortable with shoplifters having anything to do with cash or with stock.'

Special sergeant Fred Jude recently won a Norfolk police award for his work to combat shoplifting in Norwich. He has organised at least 20 conference with more than 40 young people caught stealing.

He said: 'Most of these young people aren't intrinsically bad, they have just made a mistake or got caught up in the wrong crowd. By giving them a bit of a shock and making them realise they could be ruining their long-term prospects, you can make them sit up and think about what they're doing.

'Of course we keep a record of anyone who has been in trouble so, if they are caught again, they could well end up in court. But it is unusual for a young person who has gone through the restorative justice process to get in trouble again.'

t Turn to page eight for an in-depth look at the work of Norwich's city centre safer neighbourhood team.

t Has your son or daughter turned their life around after getting in trouble with the police? Contact crime correspondent Ben Kendall on 01603 772423 or email