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Shoplifting surges in UK as retail workers face rise in violence and abuse

Shops on London's Oxford Street are struggling to keep revenue at a sustainable level.
Shops on London's Oxford Street are struggling to keep revenue at a sustainable level. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Andrew Naughtie, Euronews
Published on Updated
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Major retailers have warned that a new 'epidemic' is becoming serious enough to eat into their profits.

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As British consumers struggle with onerous interest rates and stubbornly high prices, some of the country's top retailers are warning that a spike in shoplifting is putting both revenues and their staff at risk.

In an interview with BBC Radio, the chair of the John Lewis Partnership said that low-level retail crime is a problem on multiple levels, and that the situation shows signs of getting out of control.

"It's become an epidemic," said White, whose group owns both John Lewis department stores and the Waitrose supermarket chain.

"Across the sector, it's about £1 billion" (€860,000) she said of the retail industry's losses to shoplifting.

White warned that retail-dependent town centres are becoming "a looting ground for emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs", and called for a formal government commission to be convened to deal with the crisis.

"We're finding that it's prolific, repeat offenders...there might be 10 or 12 offenders that are causing havoc across a number of businesses.

"One of the reasons the current debate is so important is that those incidents haven't always been responded to by the police. And sometimes some of those incidents have got violent aspects."

According to data published by the British Retail Consortium earlier this year, retail theft across ten of the UK's largest cities has risen by 27% overall. The same data showed that incidents of violence and abuse directed at retail workers are now at twice their pre-pandemic levels.

This intersects with a broader problem currently facing the UK: at a time of shrunken police budgets and low staffing levels, a high number of petty and even violent crimes are going unsolved. Last year, it was widely reported that only 6% of burglary cases were being solved annually.

To combat this problem, several top supermarkets and clothing retailers are pooling hundreds of thousands of pounds into a scheme called Project Pegasus, which will pay police forces to run CCTV images of prolific shoplifters and offenders through national databases, using facial recognition to identify repeat offenders and organised gangs.

The spectre of coordinated rather than spontaneous crime became real in one particularly shocking incident earlier this summer, in which dozens of young people apparently galvanised by a TikTok trend gathered to loot and vandalise stores around London's Oxford Street, in particular athletic retailer JD Sports.

Shops closed their shutters during peak hours to avoid being damaged, and police arrived in large numbers to disperse and arrest troublemakers, some of whom were seen on video in heated verbal confrontations with local shopkeepers.

After the events were widely reported, Home Secretary Suella Braverman vowed that those involved would be "hunted down and locked up".

"We cannot allow the kind of lawlessness seen in some American cities to come to the streets of the UK," Braverman tweeted.

"The police have my full backing to do whatever necessary to ensure public order."

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