Hundreds of vulnerable women and children are being trafficked to the UK to shoplift for Eastern European crime groups, a recent report, suggesting that shoplifting groups that are funding organised crime.
BBC reported on Tuesday (12) that one company in Scotland told BBC File on 4 it had identified a gang with 154 shoplifters stealing high-value items in bulk to sell or ship abroad. Members have been arrested in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Darlington.
These criminal networks, connected to firearms offenses, drug activities, and human trafficking, are causing a financial burden on stores, estimated at £1 billion annually. During the festive season, concerns about lost revenue are further heightened.
Retailers Against Crime (RAC) said it was tracking 56 shoplifting groups that are funding organised crime. The criminals’ activities have been linked to drugs, firearms and human trafficking.
Maxine Fraser, managing director at RAC, works in partnership with Police Scotland and 1,500 shops in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England. RAC has been tracking the 154-person group since 2019. It is based in Glasgow and travels across the UK to shoplift.
Fraser said the gang has a number of children who have been trafficked to the UK specifically to shoplift. She cites four girls who arrived in 2019 and are still working with the group.
“They’ve all been here in the UK since they were between 12 and 14 years old,” she added. “There are probably in the region of 15 children working in this group at the moment.
The report added that many members of this gang have been arrested and jailed for shoplifting but not imprisoned for long since they are charged with single offence. Upon release, the cycle of shoplifting continues.
The British Retail Consortium estimates that shoplifting cost retailers £953 million last year, with a 25 per cent rise in reported incidents.
Organised crime groups are blamed for many of the largest losses. Another 100-strong gang operates in London with members that are almost exclusively female, all trafficked from Eastern Europe.
Former police officer Adam Ratcliffe, who runs the Safer Business Network, has worked through hours of CCTV and police information to establish links within this group. He said the gang has clear aims.
“This group is targeting cosmetic stores going after fragrance, high value face creams and cosmetics,” he said. “They are stealing keys to the secure cabinets within these stores where the products are stored. They go in. Five, six, seven of them at a time. They open the drawer and they fill the bags”.
He said gangs will choose young women to carry out crimes because they are less likely to be seen as criminals by security guards and shop staff.
Ratcliffe said those carrying out the crimes are often at the bottom of the ladder, carrying all the risk and seeing none of the reward.
“It’s a godawful life for these people, they are vulnerable and have been exploited,” he said. “Their lives are horrific. They are living in houses of multiple occupancy, 30, 40 of them at a time, sleeping on mattresses in dirty rooms, being used and abused as criminals for financial gain.”