Over half of shopkeepers think that crime directed at their businesses is being ignored by the Government and police, a survey revealed.

A study among small to medium sized retail businesses by insurer AXA also showed that 64 per cent of shop owners and managers felt there were not enough police on the streets.

Only one in six retailers considers their local policing to be adequate and just over a fifth believe that even if there was a greater police presence it still wouldn't make any difference to business crime.

Nick James, crime policy officer for the British Retail Consortium, said: "Another problem for retailers is that even when they catch criminals, the police are unable to respond properly due to being over-stretched and the fact that they are focused on domestic crime.

"Where arrests are made, offenders are often not punished beyond cautions or minor fines due to strain on the courts and the criminal justice system."

As an alternative to more police, some UK retailers are calling for tougher justice to deter criminals who habitually target them.

Just over 40 per cent want longer custodial sentences and 30 per cent want much tougher financial penalties. A further 24 per cent want to see an increase in custodial sentences and 18 per cent want longer term community service. AXA's client database also shows that one in five of all business insurance claims settled in 2004 was the result of criminal activity. The data shows businesses are most likely to be victims of theft or malicious damage - these two crimes accounted for over 95 per cent of all the crime related settlements.

AXA claims director David Williams said: "This research shows that retailers are feeling exposed and threatened by business crime.

"But it is encouraging that the issue of business crime is starting to gain a higher profile. This is primarily due to fact that industry, the Government and the organisations that represent UK business are starting to put their heads together and share data on business crime. Retailers also need to help themselves.

"When it comes to security measures, spending a lot of money on equipment may not be the right thing to do - whereas walking round the shop premises and thinking what you would do in a criminal's shoes can be insightful."