Professor Joshua Bamfield Director, Centre for Retail Research
Retail civil recovery has developed rapidly in Britain over the past eighteen months. The number of retailers using the civil law to obtain compensation from shop thieves has grown from one company (ASDA) with two pilot sites in 1997 to almost 30 major retailers today with 500 stores. By January 2000, it is expected that civil recovery will have spread to around 4,000 shops across England and Wales.
U.K. retailers have developed a distinctively British approach to civil recovery, which emphasises its role primarily as a crime reduction measure, based on collaboration between retailers and with the police. It has become important enough for ACPO to agree a civil recovery Statement of Good Practice for the use of police forces.
The National Programme
What is now called “The National Civil Recovery Programme” has developed from a six-month collaborative Pilot which ended in April 1999 in the Wolverhampton/Dudley area. It is the largest civil recovery programme bringing together smaller retailers along with HMV, B&Q, Wilkinsons, Bhs, Superdrug, W H Smith, Boots the Chemists, Allders, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury. The programme has now been extended to the whole of the West Midlands and parts of the East Midlands and expects to cover all England and Wales by July 2000. My own company, Retail Loss Prevention Ltd, runs civil recovery in the scheme on behalf of the retail members. Although the programme was set up by large multiples, smaller retailers are able to join free of charge.
How the Schemes Work
The retailers or third party providers attempt to recover between � and �0 from customer thieves and approximately double that from staff thieves, although only one third of retailers currently use civil recovery against staff. Members of the programme have found that their costs of apprehending a customer thief are more than �0 when the costs of staff time and contribution to security equipment are included. Thieves are given the option of paying a smaller amount of fighting a case in the civil courts for much larger sums of money. The initial approach to the wrongdoer is by letter with the threat of civil court action if no payment is received. The offender is contacted within a few days of their initial apprehension. In the National Programme, the quality of the case is assessed by a third-party before the letters are sent out. Juveniles, the elderly and mentally ill persons are excluded from being sanctioned via the scheme.
So far, the results have been impressive. The results of the national pilot in the West Midlands showed an average reduction in shop theft of 35% amongst those participating. The actual company results, however, vary widely from those that saw little change to those like the DIY store with the worst theft results in the region that was transformed into the region抯 model store.
Civil recovery seems to provide most benefit in stores where there are security staff, who are often highly motivated on behalf of the scheme. The evidence shows that civil recovery works best when :
1. Its existence is effectively communicated to thieves, and
2. There is a close relationship with the retailer抯 loss prevention strategy and any town centre retail crime operation.
Over the next twelve months we can expect to see more retailers using civil recovery against thieves and schemes being operated nationally, bringing all major towns and cities into the programme. Early in 2000, civil recovery will also to start Scotland. Having shown that civil recovery is practicable and reduces crime, retailers will be pressing for a civil recovery law. There will also be increasing concern about “rogue operators” entering this field, creating bad publicity and destroying the good will between retailers and the police which has characterised the use of civil recovering so far.