‘Tsunami’ of shoplifting offences has rocked public confidence in police, ministers warned | Politics | News

Police chiefs are under mounting pressure to tackle the “tsunami” of shoplifting blighting communities across the UK.

Officers have “lost grip on the scale and severity of acquisitive crime” as the number of crimes has rocketed to a new record high, a scathing report has concluded.

And ministers are being urged to introduce a specific offence of assaulting a shop worker to give them “the protection they deserve”.

Retail theft is fuelling the drug trade, destroying the high street, “limiting employment” and creating “food deserts”, according to Professor Emmeline Taylor, from City, University of London.

Professor Taylor, said: “Retail crime not only impacts on a business’s ability to operate safely and profitably but as my report demonstrates it also causes serious harm to shop workers, both physically and mentally, and to communities that are blighted by persistent offending.

“The police in England and Wales have lost grip on the scale and severity of acquisitive crime, and, in turn, retailers have lost confidence in them and the wider criminal justice system.

“My report sets out ten actionable recommendations to turn the tide on the current tsunami of shop theft.

“By taking decisive action to tackle high-volume, high-impact retail crime, the police and retail industry can work together to create safer communities in which to live, work and shop.”

Professor Taylor’s report, commissioned by Co-op, revealed more than 330,000 incidents of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour – nearly 1,000 every day in 2,400 stores.

More than 1,300 staff were attacked, up 34 per cent compared to last year.

Police are attending just two out of five shoplifting crimes, the report revealed. But Professor Taylor said that “with two-in five detained criminals still walking away, it continues to send a message that this is a consequence-less crime.”

Matt Hood, MD Co-op Food, said: “We are seeing far too many prolific offenders persistently steal large volumes of products, in our shops every day, and, if they are stealing to fund addictions, the situation often becomes volatile and dangerous.

“Crime is an occupation for some – it is not petty crime, and it is not victimless. It is imperative MPs don’t turn their backs on shopworkers, and vote through the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to give my colleagues the protection they deserve.

“Taking on board Professor Taylor’s recommendations, with a collaborative approach between the retail industry, the police, and the Government, will send out a loud and clear message to all those who commit brazen and violent acts of theft that time is now up on their criminal ways.”

Police chiefs must develop a strategy to tackle “prolific retail crime”, Professor Taylor’s report recommended.

And officers must be held accountable through performance targets, she said.

A new ‘flag’ should also be introduced on all incidents of retail crime in the Police National Database so that chiefs can track key trends.

The Daily Express understands police leaders back the proposals, with one describing the flag as an “important” recommendation.

One added: “The flag is important because, at the moment, the only way police forces can measure how many assaults or abuse of shopworkers they have, is by manually trawling through every case.

“With a flag, it would be easier and quicker to interrogate all crimes and tell how many were in a retail setting.”

Co-op is urging its 57,000 employees to write to their MPs to demand changes.

Professor Taylor said police and ministers must launch a campaign to target marketplaces used to sell stolen goods. She also wants them to be regulated to limit the sites used by criminals to flog their stolen goods.

Officers are particularly concerned many thieves are stealing to fund drug or alcohol addiction habits. This, they warned, could lead to more violence and desperation.

Lord Stuart Rose, the chairman of ASDA, on Wednesday claimed police are not picking up the phone to attend burglaries or shoplifting.

He said: “The authorities just do not take shoplifting seriously. 40 years ago when I was a manager at Marks and Spencer Marble Arch, the police would turn up. Now they don’t even answer the telephone.

“The costs are soaring. The numbers are scary. We have to cover the costs. Margins are down to historic lows. We are a very efficient industry trying our best to help customers.”

Chief Superintendent Alex Goss is National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for retail crime, said: “Retail crime can have a significant impact on victims which is why we are committed to doing all we can to reduce thefts and pursue offenders, especially those prolific and habitual offenders, who cause misery within the community.

“Late last year we worked with the Government to develop the Retail Crime Action Plan which sets out clear guidelines for the response to retail crime, including following all reasonable lines of enquiry. Police forces have embedded the plan in their operational work and we’re already seeing positive results.

“Organised crime can also be responsible for a proportion of these offences which is why we welcome the collaboration between retailers, police and crime commissioners and policing through Project Pegasus, which enhances our ability to identify and tackle the groups involved.

“The intelligence aspect to Project Pegasus within national policing unit, Opal, is undergoing recruitment and work has already started to collate information on prolific offenders and groups around the country.”

‘Tsunami’ of shoplifting offences has rocked public confidence in police, ministers warned

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