Beds, Herts & Bucks

CAB call for recovery law review

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is calling for an urgent review of the law on civil recovery as retailers increasingly resort to private companies to act against people suspected of theft.

Although the retail industry says it loses billions of pounds a year through theft, the CAB's latest report shows that hundreds of shoppers are being accused of crimes they did not commit.

Retailers are increasingly using civil recovery instead of instigating criminal proceedings where the burden of proof on a prosecuting authority is higher.

Around 100,000 demands are sent out every year to people accused of stealing, but a BBC Inside Out investigation has found that the evidence used is often poor.

Civil recovery agencies issue demands for damages on behalf of the retailers but many consumers, according to the CAB, say they are being accused of something they have not done.

'Wrongful act'

Caroline King, a university student from Bedfordshire, said she was shopping in Boots when she was accused of stealing a lip gloss worth £17.

She denies taking anything but received a demand for £137.50 as compensation for her "wrongful act".

The demand was issued by Retail Loss Prevention - the biggest civil recovery company in the UK which operates on behalf of such high street names as Boots and Tesco.

The letter threatened court action and said Ms King could also be liable for costs if she did not pay.

Eventually her mother settled by paying the demand because she said her daughter felt anxious and threatened.

Nationally the CAB said it was dealing with 4,000 cases a year of people who say they have been sent unfair demands.

Their second report into the issue is about to be published.

Its author Richard Dunstan told the BBC: "People do panic and pay. This relies on shame fear and ignorance of the law."

Law 'questionable'

Retail Loss Prevention told Inside Out they issue 85,000 demands every year.

But director Jackie Lambert said action was only taken if there was evidence.

"Civil recovery is about being a deterrent - we have less than 3% repeat offenders on our records so it works.

"Our clients will only take action if the evidence is there," she said.

Neither Boots nor RLP would comment specifically on Ms King's case, but in a statement Boots said civil recovery was necessary because "theft from our stores is an increasing issue".

The CAB report entitled "Uncivil Recovery", calls for an urgent review of the law and includes opinion from counsel that the law being relied on is questionable.

That claim has been contested by Retail Loss Prevention but the organisation told the BBC it had never successfully litigated a fully contested county court claim in respect of an unpaid demand.

The full report can be seen on Monday 29 November on BBC Inside Out in the East at 1930GMT or on bbc.co.uk/iplayer

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