Thieves target stores every TWO seconds in Britain, figures show

Thieves target stores every TWO seconds in Britain, costing retailers more than £1billion last year alone, shocking figures show – as Suella Braverman backs a Mail campaign to end the shoplifting epidemic

  • Retailers lost more than £1billion in stolen goods last year due to shoplifting
  • Tesco staff will all have a body camera after workers met with increased violence

The Mail on Sunday today reveals the shocking reality of the epidemic of shoplifting that is blighting Britain, as we launch a major campaign to crack down on the crime.

The problem is now so widespread that a theft takes place every two seconds.

Thieves are exploiting lax policing, a ‘soft-touch’ justice system and the fact that some store staff are told not to tackle shoplifters for fears they could be attacked by the criminals – or even prosecuted themselves for intervening.

The crime costs the country dear, with retailers losing more than £1 billion in stolen goods last year, forcing them to raise prices at a time when consumers are already struggling with escalating food costs.

The Mail on Sunday’s campaign – calling for the police, Crown Prosecution Service and courts to be much tougher with shoplifters, and for a change in the law to make abuse or violence towards shop staff a specific offence – comes after the boss of the country’s largest supermarket, Tesco, highlighted the issue in last week’s paper. 

The Mail on Sunday today reveals the shocking reality of the epidemic of shoplifting that is blighting Britain. Pictured: A thief seen in Nottingham

Ken Murphy, managing director of Tesco, said that every frontline worker in his stores is to be offered a body camera following a shocking increase in violent attacks on staff.

Last night, former Home Secretary Priti Patel said: ‘I support The Mail on Sunday’s campaign and the police must take robust action to protect our nation’s hard-working shopkeepers from criminals.

READ MORE: Shopkeepers ‘forced to defend their own empires’ and tackle thieves themselves as retails chiefs blast police for no longer treating shoplifting as a crime 

‘As the daughter of a shopkeeper, I know how hard people work in small and family-run businesses and the financial costs and stress caused by thefts.’

Home Office sources said Policing Minister Chris Philp was ‘very sympathetic’ to the campaign and has said that police should have a zero tolerance policy towards shoplifting, and that the force should look into every crime where there was CCTV footage of it taking place.

Sir Keir Starmer also backed the MoS campaign and said it is ‘shameful’ that shop staff were left at the mercy of ‘shoplifters and thugs’.

The Labour leader said: ‘I’m backing this important campaign to support retail staff – and to make sure those who make lives a misery see the consequences of their actions. People are fed up with seeing [shoplifting] go unpunished.’

A Labour policy review on exactly how to strengthen anti-shoplifting laws has yet to report. But Sir Keir pledged that Labour’s Neighbourhood Policing Guarantee ‘would bring back local patrols with 13,000 extra officers and PCSOs’.

Meanwhile, a powerful coalition of store bosses, retail associations and former police chiefs have joined our call for action.

Officers apprehend a thief as he tries to make a getaway with his stolen goods

The scale of the problem in the UK is immense:

●More than ten million shoplifting cases – nearly 30,000 a day, or one every two seconds – were recorded last year, up 25 per cent on 2021;

●Police data suggests a rise of up to 75 per cent in theft of food, drink and essential items such as baby formula and laundry tablets;

●Criminal gangs regard stores as soft targets and systematically strip them of high-value goods;

●Last year 850 violent incidents were committed every day in shops;

●One in eight shop bosses no longer report shoplifting incidents because they say police are uninterested. 

●Shop staff are often told not to intervene – with many thieves loading up with goods ‘without attempting to hide what they are doing’;

Legal action is also declining. In the year to June 2022, 21,279 people were prosecuted for shoplifting in England and Wales, compared with 80,352 a decade ago.

READ MORE: Shopkeeper who has run his stores for 20 years says he might have to CLOSE his business due to shoplifting 

A change in the law in 2014 meant those charged with the theft of goods worth less than £200 fall under the bracket of anti-social behaviour, so they are more likely to receive a fine without having to even attend court. Policing experts have claimed this ‘decriminalises’ shoplifting.

Co-op food managing director Matt Hood said: ‘It’s hard to over-emphasise how important change is. Too often, the police fail to respond to desperate calls by our store teams. Criminals are operating without any fear of consequences.

‘I have seen horrific incidents of violent theft in our stores, where my colleagues feel scared and threatened. In the worst instances I would describe it as ‘looting’.’

John Lewis chairman Dame Sharon White backed our campaign and has written to Ministers calling for tougher sanctions against repeat and violent offenders.

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman told the MoS that local shops face ‘unprecedented levels of theft’.

‘Often, these crimes are committed by repeat and prolific offenders,’ he said. ‘It’s no mystery what is needed to turn the tide on shop theft: the police need to investigate every incident and bring persistent offenders to court, and courts need to give strong and effective penalties to break the cycle of re-offending.

‘The UK’s 49,000 convenience stores are right behind The Mail on Sunday’s campaign.’

More than half of shoplifters are repeat offenders, often known in their communities, who take advantage of stores’ no-challenge policy.

Thief Kirk Wharton, who got a nasty surprise when he fled a store and ran into the arms of police

Violence is also increasing, with staff threatened with hammers, dirty needles and knives. An ACS report noted 41,000 violent incidents in the convenience sector last year, with 13 per cent ending in injury.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘Shoplifting is not a victimless crime. For victims, from teenagers working their first job to parents working around childcare, the physical and emotional impact can last a lifetime. Many incidents become triggers for abuse or violence.’

The ACS wants each police force to provide a ‘Most Wanted’ list of thieves – and to ban them from retail areas. ‘It would involve local police posting mugshots on their website so retailers would be able to recognise them,’ said Mr Lowman.

In June, the Co-op began putting chocolate bars in locked shelves. Honey, coffee and dishwashing liquid have also been locked up. Tesco has security tags on razors and, in Boots, fragrances and even cosmetics are kept behind closed doors.

Paddy Lillis, the head of the shop workers union, USDAW, said: ‘Retailers are an easy target and easy money for criminal gangs. It needs to be made clear to repeat offenders that they won’t get a smack on the wrist but a custodial sentence.’

Asda chairman Lord Stuart Rose said: ‘Theft has become minimised and decriminalised. It’s just not seen as a crime any more.’ 

On average, losses from shoplifting equate to 6p extra on the price of every product customers buy – known as the ‘crime tax’. Martin McTague, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said small businesses are less able to absorb the cost of crime.

Some police forces offer shoplifters the chance to take part in rehabilitation programmes – which amount to good behaviour courses, – as an alternative to prosecution. 

Former Avon and Somerset chief inspector Brian Roebuck described such schemes as ‘nonsense’.

Additional reporting: Patrick Tooher

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