Representatives of large and small retailers this week claimed proposed government measures for dealing with anti-social behaviour would give the green-light to shoplifters.

Publishing its response to a Home Office consultation, which closed on Tuesday, the British Retail Consortium said store owners were concerned about plans to extend the existing system of on-the-spot fines for first offences to include repeat offenders - with an on-the-street apology introduced for the first criminal act.

"The average shoplifter makes off with £149 worth of goods every time they steal," said BRC director general Kevin Hawkins.

"It is nonsense to think that a repeat offender will be put off with just an £80 fine."

Forcing criminals to say sorry or pay a fine was no answer to a crime that cost retailers more than £2bn a year and left shop staff open to acts of violence, he added.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said he had sent an angry letter to crime minister Gerry Sutcliffe.

"Shop crime has fallen too far down the government's agenda," said Lowman. "Persistent offenders must receive a custodial sentence."