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    Retail crime continues unabated: Bira survey

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    A new survey by the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) has highlighted the persistent threat posed by retail crime to independent businesses, with alarming statistics revealing the extent of verbal and physical abuse suffered by shop staff, as well as the increasing prevalence of theft and cybercrime.

    Conducted this month, this second survey six months on provides a comprehensive overview of the impact of criminal activities on independent retailers across the UK.

    The 2024 survey revealed 35.5 per cent of people had experienced verbal abuse from individuals in their shop – a decrease of 7.5 percentage points in verbal based incidents from six months ago.

    Among those subjected to verbal abuse this year, 66 per cent chose not to report it, consistent with the figures from the previous year. Of those who did report it to the police, 29 per cent indicated that the police didn’t attend, showing an improvement in police attendance over the past six months. In the 2024 survey, of those where police did attend, 57 per cent did not lead to prosecution – an increase in non-prosecution levels.

    Shockingly, incidents of physical abuse are still high, with a slight increase of 7.95 per cent (from 7.23 per cent) of shopkeepers experiencing violence, including threats with weapons such as needles, knives, and even one shop keeper having a hammer thrown at them. Of those physically assaulted, a concerning 70 per cent opted not to report the incidents to the police, while in 2023, 82 per cent also didn’t report it.

    Of those reporting physical abuse to authorities this year, 62.5 per cent didn’t end in prosecution, while 25 per cent of those calling for help, were not visited by the police.

    The amount of physical abuse suffered by shop staff seems to have peaked within the last three months, while 53 per cent reporting that physical attacks have gotten worse in the past year. Reports of shop workers being spat at, kicked, and pushed have been high.

    The report cited one shop keeper as saying: “A customer threw a hammer at me in the shop and physically assaulted me. The police did not take action even though I had CCTV, his reg and his home address.”

    Another said: “We have had multiple issues where police haven’t attended. One was when a customer shoved me out the way. The second a lady threw a bottle of drain clear into the shop without looking and police never came.”

    The survey revealed a concerning increase in theft, with items ranging from everyday essentials to high-value goods being stolen from shops. Notably, the number of higher-value items stolen (£200-£499) has skyrocketed from 7.35 per cent to 25 per cent in 2024, indicating a significant shift in the modus operandi of thieves.

    A shop owner said: “It seems like it is high value quick sale items which are worse. Not necessities but small items stolen by thieves for quick turnaround such as electronics, Christmas lights and bulbs. It feels like they are stealing to order.”

    Of those surveyed, 96 per cent expressed that retail theft had worsened over the past 12 months, mirroring the sentiment of 92 per cent in 2023. Some shopkeepers conveyed their skepticism towards the effectiveness of the ‘101’ number, citing it as “too much trouble” to report every incident, while many deemed reporting as “pointless”.

    In response to these escalating crime rates, shopkeepers are increasingly investing heavily in expensive CCTV equipment or adjusting their stock to deter thieves.

    The survey also indicated a slight increase in cybercrime related to online product sales, rising from 6.8 per cent to 9.4 per cent, with fraudulent transactions and online scams being the most prevalent.

    Shop owners expressed their desire for a greater police presence, improved response rates to crime, and stricter sentencing measures.

    In September, police forces across England and Wales pledged to adopt a ‘back-to-basics’ approach to tackling retail crime, promising to pursue every lead with a reasonable chance of apprehending criminals and solving crimes.

    Andrew Goodacre, Bira chief executive, said: “The results of our second crime survey paint a troubling picture of the challenges faced by independent retailers across the UK. Retail crime not only inflicts financial losses but also poses a grave threat to the safety and well-being of shop staff

    “The national retail crime action plan was launched last September and maybe it is too early to judge if it is making a difference. However, we are hearing mixed feedback about the buy-in from individual police forces and that is unacceptable. We have a national problem that merits a national, co-ordinated and consistent response. BIRA will continue to work with the Home Office and the police forces to better protect business owners and the people who work in the shop.”

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