Leading retailers have signed up to a new crime-fighting database that is set to dramatically increase the number of shoplifters who are caught.

Billed as a Big Society-style fight-back to store crime and an answer to

increasingly over-stretched police resources, Facewatch has won the support of retailers including Sainsbury's, Spar and Boots, as well as top cops.

The website aims to make it easier for retailers to report crimes. It allows users to send still and video images of suspects, file police witness statements online and alert others to criminal activity avoiding the usual delays caused by police having to sift through CCTV footage.

Already up and running in London and Cheshire and soon to be joined by retailers across Greater Manchester, the site was launched by Simon Gordon, a wine bar owner in London's West End, who came up with the idea after his businesses were persistently targeted by thieves.

"Retailers have been crying out for a system like Facewatch," he said. "Levels of shoplifting in the UK are ridiculously high but it's often seen as a low-level, victimless crime that's not worth reporting to police."

Crimes reported via Facewatch since trials began in November have resulted in nearly 40% of incidents being solved by police, he said, compared with a national average of below 5% and the system had won official backing from the Association of Chief Police Officers.

"The timing is absolutely right. Fighting shoplifting is a huge priority for Sainsbury's. The figures are dramatic," said Phillip Hagon, head of corporate security at Sainsbury's. The supermarket is using its store in Pimlico, which has an in-store police station, to trial the approach.

"We have a raft of systems in place but the weakness is the increasing pressure on policing and the fact that theft from shops is seen as a relatively low level crime. This definitely has the potential to be a missing link in the chain," said Hagon.