Central England Co-op is supporting a programme aimed at helping prolific shoplifters in Birmingham turn their lives around.

The retailer, which has more than 240 stores in 16 counties, has linked up with West Midlands Police to support a project helping offenders rehabilitate.

Shoplifters James Kelly and Paul Brookes have agreed to join the ‘Offender to Rehab’ programme. The pair carried out almost 200 known offences – including shoplifting – between them to sustain heroin and crack cocaine addictions.

Kelly and Brookes, who have also served time in prison, were identified by PC Stuart Toogood from the Erdington neighbourhood team. He was able to get them into Livingstone House, a male-only residential drug and rehabilitation programme in Small Heath.

Despite the Central England Co-op seeing a 30% reduction in robberies during the past two years – thanks to a range of new measures to tackle crime – shoplifting continued to be one of the biggest obstacles faced by colleagues in stores, the society said.

This led to the group linking up with West Midlands Police to try a different approach to tackle persistent offenders in Birmingham.

Corporate responsibility manager Hannah Gallimore said: “We work extremely hard to put in place a raft of measures to try and make sure that our stores are safe places to work and shop for colleagues, customers and members.

“However, unfortunately, incidents such as shoplifting do take place. As well as working closely with partners such as local police forces to bring criminals to justice, we also want to try and back projects that can not only put an end to crime taking place but also help turn the lives around of those involved.

“This is why we were delighted to link up with West Midlands Police and PC Toogood to help Paul and James on their journey in rehab.

“The innovative project is one that has targeted not just the most prolific offenders but also the ones that are willing to make changes.

“We are so proud of the progress that Paul and James have made and we are committed to continuing to support them and this programme as we have seen for ourselves the incredible benefits it can make to the community and, most importantly, the people taking part.”

Kelly and Brookes have now completed their programmes and have been clean for seven and five months respectively.

Central England is now talking to several other police forces across its trading region – including Staffordshire Police – about implementing similar schemes.