James Lowman: “Nobody should have to come to work and face what retailers and their colleagues have faced over the last year”

Incidents of theft from local shops rose more than five times to 5.6 million in 2023 from a record 1.1 million the previous year.

That is according to the Association of Convenience Stores 2024 Crime report, released today, which reflects anecdotal evidence from the forecourt sector. 

The ACS says the figures – the equivalent of 600 thefts every hour – are indicative of a wider crime crisis blighting the UK.

The report also highlights a huge increase in violent incidents committed against retailers and their staff. Over the last year, there have been around 76,000 incidents of violence in shops compared to 41,000 in 2023, says the ACS.

The association says that despite retailers spending £339 on crime prevention measures such as additional staff, intruder alarms, communication systems and CCTV, the findings “send a clear message to government, local forces, and police leaders that more action is needed”.

According to the ACS, the cost of crime itself and the cost of investing in fighting crime results in a 10p ‘crime tax’ on every transaction that takes place in every store across the UK, up from 6p in 2023.

ACS chief executive James Lowman says: “Retailers are facing an onslaught of crime committed against their businesses on a daily basis, with some losing tens of thousands of pounds per year to theft alone. This extended crimewave cannot be allowed to continue. Thieves are known to the community and to the police but they simply do not care, and continue on regardless, filling baskets and trolleys and walking out without fear of reproach.”

Lowman notes that there have been “positive steps” recent months with the publication of the Retail Crime Action Plan and the launching of Operation Pegasus – a national police scheme to identify patterns of crime and prolific offenders, partly funded by the retail industry.

However, he says: “The figures in our report demonstrate that more needs to be done urgently. Nobody should have to come to work and face what retailers and their colleagues have faced over the last year.”

The report also reveals that the top motivations for repeat offending are drug and alcohol addiction, organised crime, and opportunism. It also says that 87% of staff in convenience stores have faced verbal abuse in the past year.

More than two-thirds of retailers (67%) believe that the cost of living crisis has led to an increase in theft, while more than three quarters (76%) believe organised crime has become more prevalent in the past year.

The ACS is calling for the government, police chiefs, and the justice system to “deliver effective sanctions for offenders”, focus more police resources on neighbourhood policing, and support investment in technology to deter and detect criminals.