Shoplifting crime

Total cost of crimes against the convenience sector has rocketed to £193m, the ACS survey reveals

Shop theft has soared by 65% over the past year as shoplifters increasingly take advantage of stretched police resources and the £200 threshold required for a police investigation.

The ACS crime survey found estimated incidence of theft climbed from 575,000 last year to 950,000 this year, with retailers citing opportunism and organised crime as the main motivations.

The total cost of crimes against the convenience sector has rocketed to £193m, the equivalent of a 7p ‘crime tax’ per transaction in stores. Burglaries alone account for £20m of losses.

In 2014, the government introduced the £200 threshold for police investigation as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. This means that a shoplifter stealing goods worth less than £200 can plead guilty by post for a fine or prison sentence rather than undergo a police investigation.

However, ACS spokesman Chris Noice told the BBC in December that only half of those caught actually paid the fines.

The government initially designed the legislation to free up police to tackle violent crime but this now means that most forces only investigate store thefts if store staff faced threats of violence.

In December, The Telegraph revealed that retailers had held private meetings with the Home Office over the rising crime figures. They highlighted that offenders would steal items under the £200 threshold on multiple occasions to avoid police investigation, and that a large number of crimes were committed by persistent offenders.

“Retailers and their staff are facing violence and abuse on a regular basis for enforcing the law, whether it be through challenging shop thieves, refusing the sale of age-restricted products like tobacco and alcohol, or refusing to serve people that are intoxicated. Retailers need a consistent response from the police to ensure that when a crime is committed against a retailer it is taken seriously by the police and the courts,” said ACS chief executive James Lowman.

“Shop thefts especially are often being committed by people that are dependent on drugs or alcohol, or part of an organised gang, with many now unafraid to turn to violence when challenged. Allowing shop theft to go unpunished means that these people go on to commit other offences, and where they have addiction problems they are not treated. We need fresh thinking from government and the police, because when shop theft is not tackled properly, it has wider implications for communities.

“The figures in our Crime Report provide an important insight into what retailers face when dealing with crime, but we expect the true impact to be much larger as a lack of faith in the consistency of police response has led to many incidents going unreported.”