THE head of Binns department store in Darlington wants the law to be tougher on persistent shoplifters.

Speaking at the re-launch of a more pro-active Darlington Crimenet, Mr Steve Pashley, manager, referred to magistrates courts and the Crown Prosecution Service.

"We issue orders banning these people from our stores and it doesn't seem that this is taken into account," he said.

"We are saying these people are no longer welcome in our store. When they continue to come back, we perceive this as being burglary, a much more serious offence."

He told the D&S Times: "You get some very violent shoplifters, especially the persistent ones.

"The public doesn't understand the amount of stress this can cause to retailers and their staff.

"We work very closely with the police, but they have an uphill task."

Insp Sue Collingwood, who covers the town centre, told him his point of view would be taken on board by the police.

Ms Louise Payne, chairman of Darlington Crimenet, said the already successful scheme had been operating for several years, with more than 60 shops taking part. Another ten were waiting to join.

It now had regional links and partnerships to target highly organised gangs which were prepared to travel. The shake-up, which includes a new logo, has new rules and guidelines allowing retailers to examine photographs of known and persistent shop thieves so they can be excluded from their premises.

Mr Alan Milburn, the town's MP who re-launched the scheme, said it had already been incredibly successful.

But there was no doubt that retail crime cost Darlington thousands of pounds, eating into shop profits that could have created more jobs.

"It is very important we are always one step ahead of the game as far as the criminal is concerned," he added.