We’ve never been bothered much by shoplifters at Premier Sports, probably because there’s not much in the shop worth stealing.
Or maybe we’ve just been lucky. After all, according to the latest Home Office figures, shoplifting is currently costing the UK retail trade at least £50 million a week and the average shoplifter commits nearly 50 thefts before being caught.
To bring the problem nearer home, one out of every 20 people coming into the shop is apparently a potential shoplifter, who will probably nick something if he or she sees the opportunity.
I don’t know about the motives of the previous 19, but the young chap with the face piercing and black fingernails who came in last Wednesday seemed a pretty obvious suspect when my assistant Norman found that three minimum aerodynamic drag tennis balls left over from our Wimbledon display had disappeared from next to the till.
The fact he was the only customer in the shop didn’t go much in his favour either.
“What have you done with those balls?” Norman asked, niftily blocking the escape route with one hand and turning the shop sign to ‘closed’ with the other. “Don’t you touch me,” the lad said. “You’ll be violating my human rights. My lifestyle counsellor warned me about people like you.
“And why would I want tennis balls?” the lad asked. “They’re not hard enough to hurt anybody.”
Norman took the suspect into the back office and rang his brother-in-law, who’s a special constable, to ask his advice. “Now you’ve told me about an alleged misdemeanor, I’m obliged to report it,” the brother-in-law said. “Pity. I was just going to IKEA with the wife.”
10 minutes later a policeman who looked about 14 arrived and a quick search revealed no tennis balls on the suspect. “He’s probably eaten them while we were waiting for you,” Norman said. “In the old days you’d have been here on your bike in half the time.”
“It’s victimisation,” the lad, called Darren, said. “We live in an accusatory society. No wonder I’m stressed out.” “We can probably arrange a stress counsellor,” the policeman said, “but that’s outside my remit. Bear with me while I phone in.”
While we were waiting for reinforcements, the policeman said he had just come from arresting a man who admitted making counterfeit fivers. When asked how he became a forger, the man said he got the idea from an advert that said: ‘Make money at home’.
By now we had been joined by a female community police liaison officer with a clipboard and a man in trainers, who said he was a victim support officer. The street was blocked by police cars.
The victim support officer said I should try to get on with life and not take the matter personally. He said he would be back the next day with a crisis counsellor to help me through the post traumatic conflict that invariably accompanied the violation of personal space.
I said Norman had been violating my personal space every day since 1989, but this, it seemed, was neither here nor there.
“I’m the one what’s been violated,” Darren said. “I was mulling over the possibility of a stress workshop, Darren,” the victim support officer said. “Perhaps we can work out some dates that fit in with your community service.”
That seemed to be the end of the matter for the moment, apart from Darren threatening to sue for wrongful arrest, unlawful detainment and violation of the freedom of the individual.
The police liaison officer said she would be happy to run him down to the station to get the necessary forms. She was sure there would be someone able to spare a few minutes to help him fill them in.
It seems I’m not the only local sports retailer to have been done over recently. My friend caught a bloke nicking a top-of-the-range multifunction stopwatch from his display case.
“Tell you what,” the chap said. “What do you say if I just buy the watch, then you won’t need to bother with the police?” My friend, always happy to oblige, agreed and told him the price.
“Unfortunately, that’s a bit more than I wanted to spend,” the fellow said. “Can you show me something less expensive?”
Of course, there was still the matter of the missing tennis balls, but Norman found them down the side of the till the following morning and we agreed to keep that to ourselves.
Meanwhile, I’ve told Norman to make sure that when every 20th customer comes into the shop in future he keeps a very sharp lookout indeed.