Bosses claim shoplifting not treated as a crime amid rise in thefts

Britain’s Wild West high streets: Retail chiefs warn police do not treat shoplifting as a crime amid rise in thefts as workers start wearing body cameras, pillowcases are being locked away and shoppers have bags checked when leaving stores

  • Read more: Police should investigate all instances of shoplifting, says minister 

Retail chiefs have claimed police do not treat shoplifting as a crime amid a rise in thefts, forcing workers to start wearing body cameras, pillowcases being locked away and shoppers having their bags checked when leaving stores.

ASDA chairman Lord Stuart Rose said this week that the offence has effectively been ‘decriminalised’ thanks to a lack of action, and echoed calls by the boss of Tesco for more to be done to protect staff from attacks.

He also blamed complacent authorities which he said have ‘allowed’ lawlessness to thrive in recent months.

Reported retail thefts have now risen by 27 per cent across ten of the UK’s largest cities – and were up by 68 per cent in some, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said. 

The cost of living crisis has been cited by some, including John Lewis chief Dame Sharon White, as a reason behind the surge.

While it’s not possible to pinpoint how many thefts are as a result of financial hardship, recent figures from The Trussell Trust, Britain’s leading food bank network, show that 11.3 million people in the UK faced hunger last year due to a lack of money. 

A reported altercation at a Tesco in Aston, Birmingham saw a Tesco worker punched in the face as security staff grappled with alleged shoplifters

Pictures showed Dunelm storing its more expensive bedding away in giant glass cupboards, which need to be opened by a staff member

Many supermarkets introduced security tags or casings on baby formula products to prevent thefts 

Chicken for sale in a Tesco Express with security marking on it – a familiar sight for shoppers in recent months

Yet many retail experts are reluctant to attribute the rise to desperate ‘normal people’, pointing out that most who struggle turn to food banks, or family, rather than theft. 

Broadcaster and former politician Peter Whittle told TalkTV: ‘A lot of people maybe on the Left will say ‘this is due to the cost of living crisis, what do you expect?’ 

‘The fact is there have been very hard times in the past and it’s insulting to say the people who fall on hard times are going to go and nick stuff. 

‘There’s a general sense of a breakdown in law and order and I think as well a lot of people do it because they don’t think they’re going to be punished.’

READ MORE: Police should investigate all instances of shoplifting even if the value of stolen goods is than £200, policing minister claims

It came as footage emerged of brazen thieves running out of a JD Sports store with armfuls of clothes.

It is the latest in a series of thefts to hit the high street, with Office for National Statistics data revealing that shoplifting levels in England and Wales had risen by 24 per cent in the past year. 

Lord Rose told LBC’s Nick Ferrari: ‘It has become decriminalised. It has become minimised. It’s actually just not seen as a crime anymore. We’ve become risk averse.

‘The police have got lots of other things to do, although Suella Braverman now says that all crime will be investigated, so let’s see what happens.’

The latest evidence of stores taking drastic action to prevent shoplifting came at Dunelm, where duvets and pillowcases were locked up in PIN-code protected cabinets.

Shopper Suzie Morris, 28, couldn’t believe her eyes when she nipped into the home store to find the bedding in cupboards with keypads, she told The Sun.

Similarly, cuts of beef worth just £3.75 have been spotted in locked boxes on Co-op shelves, as well as ‘display-only’ coffee jars after a 200g jar of Kenco Smooth instant coffee rose 13 per cent in price. 

In April, a dumbfounded customer shared a video of a 600g tub of Lurpak worth £5.35 locked up in security netting in Aldi on TikTok after spotting it in a store in Kidbrooke, south-east London. 

And last December Tesco resorted to putting security tags on its cheese.  

A Co-op security guard wears a body camera at a store in London amid a rise in shoplifting

A robber lunges at Tesco staff with a knife after one supermarket worker bravely wrestled stolen goods from him

Police at JD Sports on Oxford Street in London amid the ‘mass shoplifting event’ on August 9

Customers have found themselves under ‘close inspection’ following an increase in the number of bag checks at certain stores before leaving the premises.

One customer at a Tesco Express in Taunton, Somerset, noticed ‘security protected’ stickers were being put on a number of cheeses at the supermarket giant – including its own brand product. 

Meanwhile, a member of the security staff at the Priorswood Road branch was seen ‘slapping’ the tags on cheeses in the chiller, which would set off the alarm if somebody exited the store without paying. 

READ MORE: County lines-style gangs hitting stores to steal products and sell them on are ‘being fuelled by people struggling with food bills and high inflation’

An Aldi store even placed tags on packets of sweets worth as little as 85p. 

The budget supermarket’s Rushey Green branch in Catford, south London, placed yellow security stickers on a range of its confectionary items – including a Kinder Snack Bar priced at 85p, Haribo Tangfastics costing £1 and a pack of five Cadbury Twirls selling for £1.05. 

Even baby formula was found stashed behind the counter with the e-cigarettes and spirits or security tagged – as desperate parents are forced to turn to a new ‘black market’ to feed their babies amid the cost of living crisis.

An investigation by Sky News revealed the new ‘black market’ for baby formula, with one set of parents saying they regularly purchase it from a ‘fence’ contact, who sells stolen formula for a third of the shelf price.

Meanwhile, shoppers at major supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Aldi are reporting heightened security measures in UK stores such as bag searches after using self-service checkouts.

Customers claim they have found themselves under ‘close inspection’ following an increase in the number of bag checks at certain stores before leaving the premises.

It follows the introduction of barriers at many Sainsbury’s and Morrisons self-checkouts, which require a valid receipt to be scanned before shoppers can exit.

Experts told MailOnline last month how small gangs are ‘hitting’ stores in what the British Independent Retailers Association described as ‘stealing to order’ and compared to the county lines drugs issue.

More businesses are investing in CCTV but many smaller retailers cannot afford security guards and face their profits being wiped out by a successful theft.

Reported retail thefts have now risen by 27 per cent across ten of the UK’s largest cities – and were up by 68 per cent in some, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said.

Shoppers were left dumbfounded earlier this year after £5 tubs of Lurpak were locked inside security netting

Staff at a Co-op franchise in Walthamstow, north London, had previously put ‘display only’ coffee jars on it shelves after a 200g jar of Kenco Smooth instant coffee rose 13 per cent in price 

Cuts of beef worth just £3.75 were spotted in locked boxes on Co-op shelves in an attempt to deter shoplifting during the cost of living crisis 

Tesco had previously put security tags on its cheese amid fears that cash-strapped customers might try to steal it due to the cost-of-living crisis

Baby formula was seen stored away behind the counter with e-cigarettes and spirits in one Sainsbury’s 

The trade body added that incidents of violence and abuse against retail staff have nearly doubled from more than 450 per day in 2019/2020 to more than 850 last year – with crimes including racial or sexual abuse, assault and threats with weapons.

JD Sports has been at the eye of the shoplifting storm recently after widely-shared posts on TikTok and Snapchat invited yobs to wear balaclavas and gloves and ‘rob JD Sports’ on Oxford Street at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon.

READ MORE: Co-op shops lock up meat worth as little as £3.75 in security boxes as managers try to ‘deter shoplifting’

Other chains such as John Lewis, Waitrose Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Boots are now issuing staff bodycams and training to deter violence from aggressive thieves. 

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, told MailOnline: ‘This year we have seen a significant increase in retail crime. 

‘In the past, shop theft has been dominated by people with chaotic lives and driven by a drug dependency. However, there now seems to be a more organised approach with people stealing to order.

‘Large supermarkets are using security tags on products like meat and cheese, or displaying empty jars of coffee. 

‘One of our members recently reported an incident when a gang, outside of the area, targeted a few shops and moved on. All very quick, organised, professional, and choosing a variety of small businesses and a range of products.

‘Other members have made similar comments as they know the local problem criminals, but new faces are now committing the crime.’

It comes as the policing minister said this week that forces should have a zero tolerance approach to shoplifting and investigate all instances, even if the value of stolen goods is less than £200.

Chris Philp said shoplifting is affecting businesses large and small up and down the country – often at the expense of violence or threats to retail workers.

He called on all forces to look into every crime whenever there is CCTV footage available.

The minister told the Daily Telegraph: ‘It should not be tolerated at any level – I expect a zero tolerance approach to this criminality.’

‘The law says that this is still a criminal offence and police should be enforcing it comprehensively.’

Prolific thief Kirk Wharton is seen on CCTV stashing item in his coat in a foiled shoplifting attempt

Lord Stuart Rose (pictured) said authorities have turned their heads away from a shocking wave of crime being battled by shop staff

Lord Rose’s comments came after a rallying cry by Tesco chief executive Ken Murphy for the Government and police to help supermarkets to better protect staff from abuse.

Writing in The Mail on Sunday, the boss of the country’s largest supermarket called for English laws to ‘go further’ and make abuse or violence towards retail workers an offence in itself, as in Scotland.

READ MORE: Gails boss calls for crackdown on ‘scary phenomenon’ of widespread shoplifting and aggressive customers after Tesco gives body cameras to staff to deter assaults

He also called for ‘better links between police forces and businesses’ to both take criminals to task and prevent incidents in the first place, as he pledged to offer a body camera to every frontline Tesco store worker.

The British Retail Consortium found that incidents of violence and abuse against retail workers almost doubled from more than 450 per day in 2019-20 to more than 850 last year.

Mr Murphy said physical assaults at Tesco were up by a third on this time last year.

Lord Rose said Mr Murphy’s push to raise awareness on staff safety was ‘very important’ and said ‘we do have to be careful about how our staff are exposed to dangers’.

When asked why such a state of lawlessness had occurred, Lord Rose said: ‘Well, because we’ve allowed it to happen.’

But Lord Rose stopped short of agreeing that all Asda store staff should wear body cameras, saying this would not be ‘a good place to be’.

He said: ‘I don’t really want to get to a world where we, you know, you sit down and everybody’s photographing everybody else for whatever action they take.’

Police should have a zero tolerance approach to shoplifting and investigate all instances, policing minister Chris Philp has said. Pictured: Officers on Oxford Street 

Last year retailers spent £953million on anti-crime measures, including increased security personnel, body worn cameras and more CCTV, according to the British Retail Consortium.

The industry group claims that retailers are reluctant to report incidents of retail crime as in many cases the police rarely turn up, resulting in a vicious cycle.

The pandemic – which saw supermarket staff brave the risk of Covid – is thought to have triggered an increase in abuse towards shop workers.

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