In the Media

You're nicked … now please follow me through ladies' lingerie

PUBLISHED March 8, 2006

Ground floor perfumery, wigs and haberdashery. First floor kitchenware, bedding and soft furnishings. Second floor prison cells full of suspected shoplifters and credit card fraudsters. Forget Are You Being Served? "Are you being cautioned?" is the new question in the high street.

Selfridges, the imposing department store in London's Oxford Street, has agreed a deal with the Metropolitan Police to allow the force to instal up to 10 cells in former staff offices on the site. They will be used to accommodate people suspected of shoplifting and credit card deception, not just in Selfridges itself but anywhere in the Oxford Street area.

"Oxford Street is the busiest shopping centre in Europe," said Superintendent Jon Morgan, divisional commander at Marylebone police station. "We're a very busy division, dealing with a panoply of offences, but we have limited cell capacity at Marylebone and we haven't been providing the best service for retailers."

Superintendent Morgan said the custody suite at Selfridges, which will open later this year, would offer both a visible police presence in Oxford Street and an opportunity to deal with offenders more quickly. He insisted the unit would offer practical improvements to policing in the West End and was not merely cosmetic.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," he said. "If we can deal with an offence quickly, that's better for us and for the offender. We can issue an ?80 penalty notice for shoplifting if items taken are of less than ?200 in value, no violence has been used, and there is no evidence of persistent offending. And it's not soft justice - an ?80 fine is quite a lot of money." Even in Selfridges?

The custody suite will be more modern than the antiquated cells at Marylebone and may be made of perspex. "There is a need for privacy," added Superintendent Morgan. "But we also have to be aware we may be dealing with vulnerable people and need to keep an eye on them."

The cells are not designed to be used overnight and will not house violent offenders or those suspected of having taken drugs. But Superintendent Morgan did not rule out the possibility of them being used as crisis accommodation if cells elsewhere in central London were full.

"This is the first scheme of this sort," said a Met spokeswoman. "But we will look at further partnerships with retailers." Forces are believed to be seeking to put cells in retail parks, but have so far been thwarted by planning regulations. Perhaps, if they are sited next to Ikea, suspects will be able to assemble their own. Though only, of course, if they being held for at least 48 hours.