Robbers and Videotape

Wednesday 10th December at 10:00pm

This documentary series follows police across Britain as they tackle shoplifters. Using CCTV footage and interviews with officers, security guards and the thieves themselves, the series gives an inside look at policing in Britain. This instalment visits southeast England to examine how shoplifting and drug addiction are linked.

On a Friday afternoon in Luton, a shoplifter enters a local retail area. The man, Peter, is known to police for his thievery as well as his crack cocaine habit. He needs over £60,000 a year to feed his addiction and he makes the money selling stolen goods on a daily basis.

Today, he targets high-end cosmetics and painkillers in a department store. After placing them in a shopping basket, he stashes the booty in a quiet spot to be collected later. Fortunately for Peter, the shop’s CCTV cameras are not being monitored at the time. However, two days later, the footage is reviewed and he is busted. Peter is hauled in to the station and arrested for stealing goods worth over
£200. But it is not over for the thief –the compulsory drugs test he undergoes throws up a positive result for crack cocaine and opiates.

In Gravesend, police have set up Operative Wave to target drug addicts who steal to fund their habit. It is a two-pronged attack, as the police hope not only to reduce the financial impact on local businesses but to facilitate the rehabilitation of addicts. “The intervention of getting people into treatment to get them off the drugs and to stop that vicious circle –that’s part of our remit as well,” says PC Suzie McDonald.

As part of Operative Wave, two uniformed dog handlers comb the shopping area with their trusty pooches. It is not long before Charlie the dog has picked up a scent on a young man in a department store. The boy admits that he has drugs on him, but because there is only a small amount, he is let off with a warning. At the Arndale Centre in Luton, shoplifting is so rife that police have set up a headquarters in the building’s basement. Many of the offences are committed by people who are known to police and they have their work cut out for them in clamping down on the practice. “Shoplifting is not treated by the courts as that serious,” says PC Reddington. “It’s almost like a victimless crime.”
One of Luton’s most prolific shoplifters, Abdul, has already been arrested more than 50 times. CCTV camera operators spot Abdul removing an empty carrier bag from a dumpster. He then disappears behind a bush, only to re-emerge seconds later with a full bag. When he moves off down the street, it is
clear that he is in possession of stolen DVDs, which he tries to sell to unsuspecting passers-by. Later, a
security guard spies Abdul preparing to swipe items from Sainsbury’s –a shop that he has been banned
from entering. However, he cannot be arrested because he did not actually leave the premises with the goods.

It is Luton Carnival time and a strong police presence is necessary as the population of the town swells by 100,000. Unfortunately, two PCs are called away to a retail park on the outskirts of town where Abdul has been detained for nicking DVD players from Argos. The injunction which forbids him to enter Luton town centre is now extended to include the retail park. However, the message does not get through. Days later, Abdul is spotted once more on CCTV loitering in the streets of the town centre. As well as breaching the ban, he also appears to be under the influence of drugs. Finally, Abdul receives a jail sentence of six months from the county court. His multiple offences are estimated to have cost £100,000 in police time.

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