May 19, 2024

Shoplifting reaches record level in England and Wales

  • Written by Eleanor Lowry
  • Social affairs correspondent, BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

Shoplifting crimes recorded by police in England and Wales have risen to their highest level in 20 years.

More than 430,000 crimes were recorded last year – more than a third more than in the previous 12 months to December 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is the highest number since current police records began in 2003.

Organizations representing retailers say these numbers represent a small fraction of the true number of incidents.

the Latest ONS Crime Survey Police are also dealing with unprecedented levels of theft from individuals, with personal thefts at their highest level since 2004, he said.

One South Wales retailer told the BBC she lost tens of thousands of pounds worth of merchandise to shoplifting last year and had to install expensive anti-theft technology to keep her business running.

Fiona Malone, who ran a convenience store and post office in Tenby with her husband Vince for 10 years, said she put items of high value behind the counter, but found that wine, beer and bread kept disappearing from the shop floor.

“Last year we lost around £26,000 to shoplifting, which is a huge amount for us,” she said. “We are a small, family-owned business, so the impact on our bottom line has been quite significant.

Image source, Fiona Malone

Comment on the photo, Vince and Fiona Malone lost £26,000 worth of merchandise to shoplifting last year

Ms. Malone has invested in artificial intelligence technology to monitor suspicious activity on the shop floor. All employees have headphones that can be used to record interactions with shoppers which can be passed on to police.

She added: “This makes me feel very sad. I trust everyone and I don't expect them to steal things or be deceitful.”

“If someone is really hungry and tells me they are suffering we will help them, and then they will not have a criminal record.”

James Lowman, chief executive of the Federation of Convenience Stores, which represents local shops, said the official ONS figures were not surprising but represented “a small part of the true picture of shoplifting”.

He added, “The vast majority of incidents that occur end up not being reported due to the time it takes to report the crime and the lack of follow-up by the police.”

“Thieves steal on a regular basis without fear of arrest, so it is essential that every police force in the country takes theft seriously, not least because challenging thieves is one of the biggest reasons shop workers are abused.”

It found that incidents against retail staff – including racist assault, sexual harassment, physical assault and threats with weapons – rose by 50% in the year to September 2023.

He said: “Not only has the number of thefts increased, but thieves have become bolder, more aggressive, and more armed with weapons.”

He called on police forces to “get tough” in the fight against retail crime and ensure it is a top priority in future local policing plans.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said on Thursday that shoplifting has a “devastating impact” on people’s confidence, and that police must attend every incident and follow up on every line of inquiry to send the message “don’t get away with it”.

In response to a question about the increasing number of shoplifting crimes, he told reporters: “We take the matter seriously.

He added: “A crime is a crime. It is a black and white crime. Criminal activity must be monitored.”

Addressing police officers, he said: “When you arrest people, we will tag them, and we will make sure that we send a very clear message that you will not get away with it.”

The government said the number of shoplifting charges increased by 46% last year, and it plans to intensify the use of facial recognition technology to catch perpetrators, in addition to requiring serial shoplifters to wear electronic tags to prevent the crime from recurring.

Meanwhile, Laurence Guinness, president of the London-based anti-poverty charity Childhood, said rising costs of living and families “on the line” had led to a rise in shoplifting crimes.

“The funds are not extended enough to meet the needs of families,” he said.

“I don't support it, but I understand it and I think hunger is a very powerful motivator for people who take things they don't have money for.”

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