SHOPKEEPERS in Darlington have been urged to offer young offenders work instead of conventional punishment for committing crimes.

More than 400 traders have been asked by Darlington Town Centre Management to help with Restorative Justice, a scheme that offers youths a chance to make amends for their crimes. The scheme, also supported by Darlington Youth Offending Service and Community Safety Partnership, is appealing to traders to help youngsters, who have been convicted of shoplifting, criminal damage, assault or public order offences, in their rehabilitation.

It is recommended that businesses offer supervised shop work, such as stocking shelves or painting over graffiti, and help with producing a document to show the offender the error of their ways.

Shopkeepers will be given the opportunity to attend Referral Order Panel meetings, where they can highlight the effects the crime has had on businesses. Town centre manager Louise Toms said she is hopeful traders will respond.

She said: "Even if we got a few volunteers, it would make the scheme very worthwhile.

"As it is, there's nobody to speak up from a victim's point of view, and this scheme would help in repairing the damage that has been caused."

In a letter from Ms Toms, traders were told the importance of the Restorative Justice initiative.

She said: "The involvement of victims can also help young people to accept responsibility for their actions and, where possible, to make amends.

"It is an opportunity to help offenders see that shoplifting or criminal damage is not a faceless business crime and that there are consequences to their actions which could affect even their own pocket."

A spokesman for the Community Safety Partnership and Youth Offending Team said this was part of a wider project to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.