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Major UK retailers including Burberry, John Lewis and Marks and Spencer have called on the Home Secretary to take urgent action to curb a nationwide surge in shoplifting and accompanying abuse of store staff.
88 retail leaders at the helm of some of the country’s biggest employers are asking for more focus from the police on tackling rising rates of retail crime and stiffer sentences for offenders.
In a letter to Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, they warned of “unacceptable levels of violence and abuse [against staff] amid a rise in theft, much of it organised crime”.
The retail industry demanded that the government create a standalone offence of assaulting or abusing a retail worker, with tougher sentences for offenders. They also asked that police forces across the UK respond in greater numbers to incidents.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, which represents the sector, said: “We are seeing organised gangs threatening staff with weapons and emptying stores. We are seeing violence against colleagues who are doing their job and asking for age verification.
“We are seeing a torrent of abuse aimed at hard-working shop staff. It’s simply unacceptable — no one should have to go to work fearing for their safety.”
In the case of one major retailer, police data showed that officers failed to respond to nearly three-quarters of the serious incidents of retail crime reported, according to the BRC. Almost half of the retailers surveyed in the BRC annual crime survey that the police response was “poor” or “very poor”.
Shoplifting offences in the year to the end of March were up 24 per cent year on year according to police data but were still below pre-Covid rates. The 342,000 shoplifting offences recorded in the 12 months to March compare with 375,00 recorded in the year ending March 2019.
Although supermarkets are among the most frequent victims of shoplifting, other sectors such as clothing and luxury goods are increasingly being targeted.
Retailers including Primark and John Lewis have recently warned that crime is squeezing profits. The former had forecast an adjusted operating profit margin of about 8.3 per second half of the year, but in a recent update, it said it expected it to be slightly below 8 per cent because of an increase in theft. John Lewis revealed that it had suffered a £12mn year-on-year increase in stock “shrinkage” this month.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for acquisitive crime, Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman, said the police were committed to tackling offenders and were prioritising their response supporting retailers to reduce shoplifting and attacks on staff.
“Violent offences will never be tolerated and we prioritise our policing response where there is a risk to individuals,” she added.
“We know that organised crime is responsible for a proportion of these offences and 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.”
Other signatories include Currys, JD Sports, Tesco, Asda, Matalan, Sainsbury’s and Harvey Nichols.
The Home Office did not respond to requests for comment.