Theft from convenience stores in the UK reached record levels last year, a new report from the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) revealed.
The trade body said there were more than 1.1 million incidents in the last 12 months, as it blamed criminal gangs and a cost-of-living crisis for the surge in the crime levels.
The most stolen items were higher value goods such as meat, alcohol and confectionery.
Those responsible often had a drug or alcohol addiction, or were part of a wider organised group, the ACS said in its annual Crime Report.
Retailers have now put anti-theft devices on high-value items, while in pharmacies some items such as make-up are no longer on display because of repeated theft.
ACS chief executive James Lowman called the levels of theft “unprecedented”, blaming offenders who are known to police but can steal “without fear of reproach”.
“The cost-of-living crisis has increased the level of theft but this isn’t driven by people falling on hard times turning to crime, it’s organised criminal gangs and addicts stealing to fund their drug or alcohol problems. This cannot be allowed to continue,” he said.
ACS has called on police forces to introduce a ‘Most Wanted’ list for prolific shop thieves as part of new plans to tackle repeat offending.
“Official crime figures barely scratch the surface of the problems that retailers are facing. The government, Police and Crime Commissioners, and local forces need to take urgent action to stop this national crimewave in its tracks and send a clear message that repeat offenders will be dealt with properly,” Lowman said.
UK police have come in for criticism for not prioritising certain crimes, particularly theft of lower priced goods.
Tenby retailer Fiona Malone said: “Many of the people stealing from my shop are known to the community and the police. We need to do a better job at tackling these offenders and bringing them to justice. Unfortunately, shop thieves know that the police rarely take notice of anything stolen under £50 in value.”
Inflation remains stubbornly high in the UK and at 8.7 per cent over the 12 months to May is the highest of any G7 country.
The combination of high inflation and soaring household energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seen the cost of living ramp up, forcing many Britons to tighten their belts.
ACS has called on police forces and the government to do more to take retail crime seriously and support local businesses. The five-point plan includes:
- Introduce a ‘Most Wanted’ list of shop thieves in each police force area, where prolific offenders can be banned from retail areas or referred to rehabilitation programmes.
- Review the impact of new legislation that makes attacking a public facing worker (including shop staff) an aggravated offence.
- Invest in rehabilitation programmes for offenders to break the cycle of offending and ineffective punishment.
- Encourage local forces to use the tools available to them to deal with anti-social behaviour, such as the Community Trigger and Community Remedy powers.
- Incentivise investment in crime prevention measures.
Additional key findings from the Crime Report include:
- 63% of shop theft is committed by repeat offenders
- 79% of retailers believe that the cost-of-living crisis has led to an increase in theft
- 87% of colleagues working in convenience stores have experienced verbal abuse over the last year
- Retailers estimate that just 16% of crimes against their business are reported to the police
- £228m was invested by convenience retailers in crime prevention measures over the last year