FT - James Lowman, chairman, ACS

ACS chief executive James Lowman

A coalition of business groups and shopworkers union Usdaw, representing tens of thousands of retailers and store colleagues, has written to police leaders in England and Wales setting out a three-point plan to turn the tide on shop theft.

Retailers across the UK, both large and small, are currently dealing with a torrent of theft which is having an enormous financial and human impact every single day. These crimes are often accompanied by abusive and violent behaviour by offenders, leaving shopworkers and retailers powerless to do anything to protect their livelihoods.

The British Retail Consortium estimates that the cost of theft against the retail sector has reached almost a billion pounds over the year, while the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) reports that almost 9 in 10 shopworkers have experienced verbal abuse over the past year. Challenging shop thieves is cited as the number one cause of verbal abuse by shopworkers.

Last month, Home Secretary Suella Braverman called on the police to respond to every incident of theft, leading to the National Police Chiefs Council responding, claiming that officers should retain “operational independence” and continue to be “responsible for making difficult decisions about how best to respond to the breadth of priorities of local communities”.

The letter to Police and Crime Commissioners, who are responsible for setting police priorities and budgets locally, states: “There is an opportunity to change the way we view shop theft. Rather than seeing this as high volume, low value crime, we can recognise the opportunity it gives us to identify prolific offenders who blight communities by committing these and other crimes. You should expect retailers to provide good quality evidence on offenders, and they should expect this to be analysed, investigated and followed up with meaningful interventions for those individuals. We can break the cycle of reoffending if we take this opportunity to commit to this approach.”

In the letter, the groups set out three practical areas for forces to focus on when dealing with theft. These are:

1. Help retailers to report crime and share evidence with the police: Forces should make their procedures quicker, easier and more consistent when receiving reports of theft and supporting evidence, such as CCTV.

2. Target police resources on getting prolific repeat offenders off the streets: The majority of offences are committed by criminals that are targeting retailers repeatedly and stealing on a regular basis. Forces should work in partnership with retailers to identify and apprehend the worst offenders.

3. Prioritise collecting evidence of violent attacks against shopworkers: Retailers and shopworkers are often left frustrated at a lack of action from police after an abusive or violent incident. Forces should ensure that they collect evidence from retailers, such as CCTV, when these incidents occur.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “The unprecedented levels of shop theft being faced by retailers cannot be allowed to continue. We have set out a three-pronged approach for police forces across the UK to adopt and make it clear that they are committed to tackling the problem. Theft and abuse are a blight on communities, with addicts and criminal gangs repeatedly targeting hard-working retailers and their colleagues. These are not victimless crimes, and they must be investigated to bring the most prolific offenders to justice.”

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary commented: “When retailers and the shopworkers’ trade union join together, it’s time to take notice. Our annual survey found that three-quarters of retail workers suffered abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Theft from shops was the trigger for nearly a third of these incidents last year and it is very worrying that the latest official statistics show that shoplifting increased by 24% last year. So the situation is getting worse and action is needed.”

Federation of Independent Retailers (the Fed) national president Muntazir Dipoti said: “Shop theft blights the lives of independent retailers on a daily basis and has significant implications for a store’s viability. I am sure that every Fed member has been affected by crime at some point, and, sadly, many incidents of shoplifting are becoming increasingly violent. Tackling shop theft has to be given the energy and priority it deserves from the police and the justice system and independent retailers should be given financial support so they can invest in better-quality CCTV to protect them, their staff and their businesses.”

The signatories to the letter are:

James Lowman, Association of Convenience Stores (ACS)

Andrew Goodacre, British Independent Retail Association (BIRA)

Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium (BRC)

Neil Sharpley, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)

Muntazir Dipoti, National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN)

Paddy Lillis, Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW)