The Grocer 4 Independents readers have unanimously backed the Association of Convenience Stores' call for fresh legislation and tougher sentencing for those who attack or steal from convenience store owners and their staff. A straw poll of The Grocer 4 Independents readers taken this week showed that many lived in fear of their lives ­ often asking not to be identified ­ because they think they are soft targets who get little or no support from police or government. Ghulam Farid, a partner in the Obassi Newsagents & Convenience Store in Glasgow, is one who believes punishments should be much stiffer. He said: "The younger criminals think they can get away with it. They believe they are too young to be touched and don't worry about the consequences." Farid said he had managed to keep crime at his store under control by barring those he knows to be responsible for it. Jimmy Dhaliwal, a partner in three licensed c-stores in the West Midlands, said he was completely behind the ACS call. He added: "We now have organised gangs using kids as young as 12 or 13, who are known as runners, to nip in the shops and steal bottles of drink. "The very young criminals ­ and those who put them up to it ­ know they are likely to get just a slap on the wrist. Criminals aged 18 or over know that, if they get caught, they could do time, but they are often the more dangerous thugs." Dhaliwal said that an off licence was a vital part of a c-store's mix, but believed that selling alcohol put a store at greater risk. He blamed the drug culture for part of the problem and didn't think the police were doing much about the situation. "Eight weeks ago we caught a youngster stealing a bottle of vodka. We handed the culprit to the police and gave them a statement and video evidence, but still nothing has happened. "Too much paperwork is involved and the police have neither the time nor inclination to do it." James Burnett, the owner of Park Stores in Bristol, said he has to keep his shop door bolted and lets in only those customers he knows and trusts. He added: "Last year, I had my shop window smashed twice in four days. We know the culprits and so do the police. They take the details and do little else." Burnett said the problem used to be with kids between 14 and 16, but believed children as young as 10 were now actively involved in theft. He concluded: "We're trying to earn a living and serve the community, but we get kids spitting at us and hitting out. "The situation is absurd and totally out of control." {{GROCER CLUB }}