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    ‘Organised looting’ haunts UK high streets

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    Stores are seeing increased incidents of “organised looting” where gangs would climb over kiosks and brazenly empty shelves into rucksacks, construction bags and even wheelie bins, a Co-op senior official has said.

    Paul Gerrard, the chain’s director of public affairs and a former customs officer, has recently called some of the shoplifting as “organised looting”,

    “We’ve had people come in with trolleys that they fill up with product and walk out. This is akin to organised looting on the high streets of the UK,” he told The Guardian.

    “I think there’s a real danger that businesses – I don’t just mean a couple, I mean all businesses – will look at some shops and think that is not commercially viable, because we’re spending so much to keep colleagues safe, to try to keep the product safe, that actually, whatever profit that we do make is being spent on that.”

    The rise in shoplifting comes amid a cost-of-living crisis – and poverty campaigners say some theft is born of desperation.

    The Co-op said earlier that it has recorded its highest-ever levels of retail crime, shoplifting and antisocial behaviour in the six months to June, with almost 1,000 incidents each day. It claimed that police failed to respond to 71 per cent of serious retail crimes, and that bosses were considering whether it was safe and commercially viable to keep some branches open.

    Gerrard’s statement comes a few days after Dame Sharon White, the chair of John Lewis Partnership (JLP), which owns John Lewis and Waitrose, raised voice against rampant shoplifting in the UK, calling it as an “epidemic”. Writing in the Telegraph on Sunday (10), she said high streets in some areas had already become “shells of their former selves”.

    Shop thefts have more than doubled in the past three years, reaching 8m in 2022 and costing retailers £953m, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC). The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) said it has recorded its highest-ever levels of shoplifting over the last year, with 1.1m incidents reported to the police.

    While BRC reported that more than 850 incidents of violence or abuse against staff were recorded each day, while the ACS said 87 per cent of convenience store workers had experienced verbal abuse over the past year.

    The bigger stores and supermarkets are resorting to self-defence in the form of body-worn cameras and headsets, “dummy” packaging for items and undercover guards, often former police officers, who can detain shoplifters until police arrive.

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