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How middle-class shoplifters keep up with the Joneses

By Robert McNeil

I have not yet stolen anything from a shop but, if I am to continue the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed, it is only a matter of time.

Middle-class shoplifters are fuelling a £5bn crime spree, according to reports, as they struggle to keep up standards in the recession.

Although I am working-class by origin, I now have a flushing toilet and a spare pair of socks, making me almost but not quite middle-class.

So I can see how decent citizens might become desperate to continue consuming what they see as rightly theirs. This includes iPods, exotic lingerie, upmarket seafood, posh cheese and champagne.

The statistics are revealed in something delightfully called the Global Retail Theft Barometer, which one imagines encased in walnut wood in a wainscotted hall, with a needle pointing variously to differing levels of crime, and symbols indicating a mobile phone, lingerie or, dare I say it, a halibut. It’s bad enough stealing fish — one has an image of standing at the checkout, Fawlty-like, with a haddock sticking out of one’s jacket — but who would sink so low as to nick cheese?

Then there are the logistics to consider. Presumably, the bourgeois pilferer would need a coat of many pockets — maybe one of those big waxy efforts that many of them affect — in which to keep his nicked underpants separate from his purloined Gorgonzola.

According to the experts, middle-class shoplifters, particularly young women, get an adrenalin “buzz” from taking luxury items from exclusive stores.

Fortunately, I’m not really your man for buzzes. With me it’s more of a soporific drone. Steady as she goes, and all that.

But I suppose you can see how some folk might become addicted to the excitement of shoplifting, looking left and right before putting a bottle of champers down their trousers and pretending they're just glad to see you. Their hearts pound as they head towards the exit and, presumably, there is some kind of euphoria as they reach the open air and can delight in fondling their loot.

But think how awful it would be to get caught. Keeping up with the neighbours is a cardinal concern of middle-class life, and the arrested shoplifter might find herself shunned.

Who wants to to live next door to a pillager? Who knows when they might creep into one's own semi and filch some Roquefort from the fridge?

Besides, it's hard to be middle-class in prison, which tends to have a levelling effect on inmates. Not that courts these days are likely to send you there, but community service could be worse, as you see out your punishment in public. Oh, the shame.

But we should not feel sorry for the middle-classes. For my money, the middle-classes don’t get it in the neck enough, and a clampdown in the suburbs is long overdue.

I’m sure we can all think of somebody who moans about poorly paid workers striking, while he earns much about the same in extra pocket-money from shares and so forth.

If there's a recession on, and they're desperate for a new iPod or a lump of Lymeswold, then the middle-classes are just going to have to learn to do without, like the rest of us.

They will have to learn that is simply not acceptable to nick knickers or leg it with a lobster. Marks & Spencer do perfectly affordable undergarments and, while Lidl's champagne may not be Moet & Chandon, it will still get you tiddly on the cheap.

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