In the past, most shoplifters agreed that the January sales offered wonderful opportunities for the hard-working thief. With the shops so crowded and the staff so busy, it did not require any extraordinary talent to steal one or two little things and escape unnoticed. It was  known, in the business, as ‘hoisting’.

But the hoisting game is not what it used to be. Even at the height of the sales, shoplifters today never know if they are being watched by one of those mechanical balls (with small cameras hidden inside) hanging from the ceilings of so many department stores, above the most desirable goods. As if that was not  trouble enough for them, they can now be filmed at work and obliged to attend a showing of their performance in court.

no shoplifting
shoplifting is a crime and sin


Sel fridges was the first big London store to install videotape equipment to watch its sales floors. In October last year, the store won its first court case for shoplifting using as evidence a videotape clearly showing a couple stealing dresses. It was an important test case which encouraged other stores to install similar equipment. When the balls, called sputniks, first made an appearance in shops, it was widely believed that their only function was to frighten shoplifters.

Their somewhat ridiculous appearance, the curious holes  and red lights going on and off, certainly made the theory believable. It did not take long, however, for serious shoplifters to start showing suitable respect. Soon after the equipment was in operation at Selfridges, store detective Brian Chadwick was sitting in the control room, watching a woman secretly putting bottles of perfume into her  bag.

“As she turned to go,” Chadwick recalled, “she suddenly looked up at the sputnik and stopped. She could not possibly see that the camera was filming her because it is completely hidden, but she probably had a feeling that I was looking at her. For a moment she paused, then she  returned to the counter and started putting everything back.

When she had finished, she opened her bag towards the sputnik to show it was empty and hurried out of the store without a sign of regret on her face.”


Mark the best choice.

1. Line 5, ‘hoisting’ probably means . a) having sales b) escaping c) stealing d) having talent

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