Tens of thousands of thieves face wearing tags in shoplifter purge

Tens of thousands of thieves face wearing tags in new purge on shoplifters, the Justice Secretary says

  • Alex Chalk says reoffenders will go to prison and face high street bans 

First-time shoplifters could be tagged with tracking devices in a major crackdown on the high-street crime epidemic, the Justice Secretary has said.

Alex Chalk told The Mail on Sunday the electronic ankle tags will hang ‘like a sword of Damocles’ over those who consider reoffending, adding: ‘They know, if they step one inch out of line, they are liable to go to prison.’

Britain’s most prolific shop thieves will have ‘exclusion zones’ imposed on them that ban them from high streets – or even certain stores – under threat of prison. The tags, which use GPS-monitoring technology, can immediately alert the police if offenders stray into areas they are banned from.

Mr Chalk said he planned to have 25,000 criminals ‘man-marked’ by the devices, which can track location and enforce curfews.

In an exclusive interview, he said: ‘We have doubled the number of tags available to the courts so they can choose to punish a first-time shoplifter with a tag. If there are repeat offences, because they are on that tag it means it is overwhelmingly likely they will go to prison.’

First-time shoplifters will be tagged with tracking devices, with the most prolific thieves banned from high streets or even certain stores

Britain’s shoplifting epidemic has been highlighted by a Mail on Sunday campaign calling for the police, prosecutors and courts to be much tougher on offenders. We revealed how a theft takes place every two seconds in UK stores. Retailers lost over a £1 billion in stolen goods last year, forcing them to raise prices.

Police forces have been criticised for failing to investigate shoplifting or treating it as a low priority.

But a new police operation called Project Pegasus will see officers take a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach, investigate every reasonable lead and provide the ‘highest grade of emergency response’ when store staff detain a thief. Mr Chalk said the number of reusable GPS tags – which cost up to £1,500 each – will double to 25,000 by 2025.

He added: ‘We are absolutely in favour of maxing out the use of these tags because we think it provides that additional reassurance that the British people want.

‘We have to ensure we are making the maximum use of technology to enforce robust sentences.’

A trial scheme has led to 58 thieves being charged after they committed another crime while wearing one of the tags, which tracked them 24 hours a day from a control room in Manchester. The ‘trail mapping’ devices monitored those convicted of shoplifting, burglary, theft and robbery, and are currently being tested by 19 police forces.

Mr Chalk said he planned to have 25,000 criminals ‘man-marked’ by the devices, which can track location and enforce curfews

Each day, forces submit crime data that is matched against tagged criminals. In May, Ryan Cooney, from Kent, was jailed for more than three years after he stole a handbag and robbed a McDonald’s while wearing a GPS tag.

Videos on social media have shown criminals cutting off the tags and tricking other devices that monitor alcohol consumption by placing ham or chicken skin between the monitor and their skin.

But officials say the new tags have been ‘tested to death’ and now have cut-proof Kevlar-lined straps and a fibre-optic cable that triggers a control-room alert if they are tampered with.

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