Violent shoplifting gangs escape justice if they flee, claim fed-up owners amid calls for a crackdown on ‘unprecedented’ retail theft which ‘cannot be allowed to continue’

Police officers have been accused of failing to respond to violent attacks on retail staff because the criminal has already fled amid a spiralling shoplifting epidemic.

Now a powerful coalition of industry leaders is calling on the police to help retailers and get tough on shoplifters and tackle unprecedented levels of theft.

Thefts are up by 24 per cent year on year with the cost to stores approaching £1billion a year. 

The group has written to police and crime commissioners in England and Wales calling on forces to make it easier to pass on evidence and boost efforts to find repeat and violent offenders. 

Currently, officers will not attend where the value of items stolen is under £200, while retailers say even violent attacks on innocent staff are being ignored.

The coalition is made up of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which speaks for big supermarkets, as well as the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), the British Independent Retail Association, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Federation of Independent Retailers and shopworkers’ union Usdaw.

Thefts are up by 24 per cent year on year with the cost to stores approaching £1billion a year 

Team leader Charlene Corbin was bottled by a shoplifter at the Co-op where she works

Team leader Charlene Corbin was bottled by a shoplifter at the Co-op where she works

Pictured is the wound Ms Corbin sustained after being bottled by a thief at her store

Pictured is the wound Ms Corbin sustained after being bottled by a thief at her store

The group has written to police and crime commissioners in England and Wales, calling on forces to prioritise gathering evidence related to violent attacks – and make it easier for retailers to report crimes. 

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman said: ‘The unprecedented levels of shop theft being faced by retailers cannot be allowed to continue.

‘We have set out a three-pronged approach for police forces across the UK to adopt and make it clear that they are committed to tackling the problem.

‘Theft and abuse are a blight on communities, with addicts and criminal gangs repeatedly targeting hardworking retailers and their colleagues.

‘These are not victimless crimes, and they must be investigated to bring the most prolific offenders to justice.’

A recent study found 54.4 per cent of shoplifting involved supermarkets, with Co-op the worst affected, ahead of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Aldi.

The John Lewis group, which includes the supermarket Waitrose, recently put its shoplifting losses at £12million.

And the group of businesses and workers now says it is time for police to make it easier to report a crime and submit evidence, identify prolific offenders behind anti-social behaviour sprees and to prioritise gathering evidence related to violent attacks.

The letter says: ‘We often see scenarios where violence against shopworkers is not responded to by the police because incidents do not meet forces’ threat, harm and risk criteria as offenders have left the premises after committing an offence.

‘In the vast majority, if not all, of retail businesses there will be CCTV footage available to support police lines of enquiry into violent incidents. 

‘We would like to see the proactive collection of evidence prioritised by police forces.’

The group want forces around the country to follow the example of Nottinghamshire and Sussex, where action is being taken to identify, prosecute and lock up prolific offenders.

The John Lewis group, which includes the supermarket Waitrose, recently put its shoplifting losses at £12million. Pictured: Blatant shoplifters caught stealing speakers and clothes at John Lewis

The John Lewis group, which includes the supermarket Waitrose, recently put its shoplifting losses at £12million. Pictured: Blatant shoplifters caught stealing speakers and clothes at John Lewis

The Co-Op has introduced anti-theft display boxes in a bid to help curb bulk-shoplifting

The Co-Op has introduced anti-theft display boxes in a bid to help curb bulk-shoplifting

A recent study found 54.4 per cent of shoplifting involved supermarkets, with Co-op the worst affected, ahead of Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Aldi. Pictured: Co-Op now even locks baby milk in security boxes

A recent study found 54.4 per cent of shoplifting involved supermarkets, with Co-op the worst affected, ahead of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Aldi. Pictured: Co-Op now even locks baby milk in security boxes

A shoplifter has a tug of war with a Co-op worker in Liverpool

A shoplifter has a tug of war with a Co-op worker in Liverpool 

Both Home Secretary Suella Braverman and policing minister Chris Philp have already called on police to be tougher on shoplifting.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has been approached for comment.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, added: ‘Retail crime is getting worse – thieves are becoming bolder, and more aggressive. Violent and abusive behaviour is on the rise.

‘These confrontations might be over in a matter of minutes, but for many victims, their families and colleagues, the physical and emotional impact can last a lifetime.

‘Retailers are working hard to reduce crime, investing nearly £1 billion into crime prevention measures in the last year. 

‘But now we need the police to do more to prioritise retail crime and bring levels of violence, abuse and theft down for good.’

The Mail On Sunday has launched a campaign urging authorities to act against shoplifting. 

It has highlighted how organised criminal gangs are behind half of all shop theft.

Currently, officers will not attend where the value of items stolen is under £200, while retailers say even violent attacks on innocent staff are being ignored. Pictured: Sainsbury's introduces contactless, checkout-free shopping

Currently, officers will not attend where the value of items stolen is under £200, while retailers say even violent attacks on innocent staff are being ignored. Pictured: Sainsbury’s introduces contactless, checkout-free shopping

Pedestrians pass brand name retail outlets on Oxford Street in London on September 5, 2023. A coalition of retailer groups have joined to call on police to crack down on shoplifters

Pedestrians pass brand name retail outlets on Oxford Street in London on September 5, 2023. A coalition of retailer groups have joined to call on police to crack down on shoplifters

The campaign has revealed how a lack of police action has forced retailers to spend tens of millions of pounds on their own security measures, including hiring private companies to bring prosecutions.

Katy Bourne, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners lead for business and retail crime, said PCCs are working at a national level to improve the police response. 

She said: ‘I completely understand the sectors’ frustration and their concerns for their members. 

‘I’ve seen for myself the fear, the harm and the damage that too many shop staff and retailers are experiencing. 

‘From the many businesses I have met it is sadly evident that, too often, the policing response they have received – assuming they got one – is not what they expect.

‘However, we also cannot overlook the fact that police forces face a huge daily demand on their finite resources so they will have to prioritise a physical response based on the threat posed to staff and customers and the likelihood of catching up with the offender.’ 

Some forces are reviewing ways to make reporting shoplifting easier, while Sussex already has a number in place including one that reduces the time needed from 30 minutes to two. 

There is also Operation Pegasus, a scheme to gather intelligence about organised crime groups who shoplift. 

Ms Bourne, who is Sussex PCC, added: ‘I’d also like to see prolific shoplifters monitored with electronic tags, as happens with persistent domestic abuse perpetrators and burglars, so I’ll be raising this with ministers and officials. 

‘If we want to retain our villages and high streets and shopping malls as pleasant places to shop and visit we have to be more proactive, more imaginative and more robust. We can’t retreat and give up or our stores will close up.’

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