Shoplifter becomes first thief prosecuted by private police force after Met refuses arrest

A shoplifter with more than 50 previous convictions has become the first thief to be successfully prosecuted by a private police force after overstretched police officers refused to arrest him and let him go.

Nicholas Richards was caught on CCTV stealing Gucci perfume worth £170 from a flagship Boots store in Piccadilly, central London, and was recorded admitting the offence on the body-worn cameras of officers from My Local Bobby (MLB), a private police force, who apprehended him.

However, Metropolitan Police officers who arrived on the crime scene decided the case was a "civil" matter and released Richards, who was already on a suspended sentence for theft. 

Private investigations company TM Eye, which runs MLB and provides neighbourhood policing to residents, firms and stores, decided to bring the prosecution, and on Tuesday Richards was convicted and sentenced.

The career criminal was ordered by Chatham magistrates to do a six-month community service order, undergo 20 days of rehabilitation and pay £100 towards the cost of the case.

It has taken TM Eye over 16 months and nine court appearances for Richards to be finally brought to justice, during which time he has committed further shoplifting offences and breached his suspended sentence.

Nicholas Richards, seen in Boots' flagship West End store

Credit: News Scans/News Scans

TM Eye has a further 40 theft or shoplifting cases before the courts because it claims the police are reluctant to prosecute "minor offences". As few as 1.3 per cent of thefts in England and Wales now result in a charge, according to Home Office data.

David McKelvey, a TM Eye director and former detective chief inspector in the Met, said: "It is unacceptable that retail stores such as Boots are being let down by the police in this way. The police turn up and generally don’t take any formal enforcement action. They don’t arrest or prosecute.

"So now, unless it’s a violent offender, a juvenile or a prolific offender, we don’t tend to call the police when we apprehend someone. Where we have the name and address, we will go with a private prosecution.

"Police seem to think that, if they arrest a shoplifter, that will effectively take officers off the streets for an entire day to process the case where in reality what they could be doing is what we do, which is to issue a summons. All you need is a name and an address and you get a summons. You don’t have to arrest them and take them to the police station."

TM Eye started by investigating and prosecuting counterfeit goods rackets, then two years ago launched MLB. Its 30 "bobbies", uniformed with red vests and caps, provide cover 24/7 for up to 250 houses and businesses on each beat. It promises to have a response officer at the scene within five minutes for a fee of £100 to £200 a month per household.

The "bobbies" are largely drawn from the ranks of former police officers and the military, and are accredited with the Security Industry Authority (SIA), with most also close-protection trained.

The Met said it was "not felt proportionate to continue" its investigation into Richards when it learned of the private prosecution.

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