Small shops say criminals ‘more brazen’ as they know police will not show up

Convenience stores across the country are experiencing an increase in thefts amid the cost of living crisis.

Retail Shoplifting. Man Stealing In Supermarket. Theft At Shop
Small shops across the country which is experiencing an increase in thefts. (Getty)

A small shop owner who is catching up to nine people stealing each day has said criminals are “more brazen and aggressive” because they know police will not show up.

Benedict Selvaratnam owns Freshfields Market in Croydon - which is one of many local shops across the country which is experiencing an increase in thefts amid the cost of living crisis.

The Federation of Independent Retailers, which has 10,500 members, said 850 incidents of theft or verbal abuse were recorded across its members every day, and incidents had increased 25% in the last year.

Selvaratnam, from south London, blamed this partly on police not always attending calls for thefts.

He told BBC News: “[It] emboldens these criminals to continue doing what they are doing and others to follow."

3rd May, 2019 - Metropolitan policeman and Policewoman in High Vis jackets looking at crowds in Westminster, central London
The Met Police has been criticised for not attending shoplifting calls. (Getty)

Selvaratnam added: “We're getting it from mums who are putting products in prams, we're getting it from pensioners, children and teenagers coming in on bicycles.

"We've seen a big increase in organised gangs stealing to order, whether it's coffee, honey or meats."

He said workers at the shop had been assaulted and some female staff quit due to safety concerns.

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The Met Police told the BBC that responding to every case was “unrealistic” due to high demand.

However, they have assured that officers will be sent to tackle the issue "where appropriate" and said they were working with shops across the capital to improve how incidents were reported.

Dame Sharon White, the boss of John Lewis, previously said shoplifting had become an “epidemic”, with incidents not always investigated by police.

What action do shops want?

Muntazir Dipoti, president of the Federation of Independent Retailers, is calling on the government to give a grant of £1,500 to independent retailers to improve their security.

He said: “The majority of retailers have got CCTV but their cameras might not be the latest technology, for example HD cameras, we feel £1,500 would suffice to get them where they need to be.

“Retailers would feel like they’ve been listened to and supported and it’ll give them that confidence.

Dipoti said one independent retailer died after suffering a heart attack when tackling shoplifters and another had to evacuate the premises as armed police were called while up to £100,000 worth of damage was caused inside.

He said that due to the cost-of-living crisis, people have gone from stealing more expensive items to everyday products such as tins of spam.

He added members have also seen a rise in youths filming themselves stealing from shops to post on sites such as TikTok.

Watch: Minister says police will investigate every shoplifting offence

What is being done to tackle shoplifting

John Lewis is among 10 of the UK’s biggest retailers which have agreed to fund a police operation to crack down on shoplifting, dubbed Project Pegasus.

The companies are expected to pay around £600,000 towards the project, which will utilise CCTV pictures and facial recognition technology to get a better understanding of shoplifting operations.

It is said that the project will benefit all retailers.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Shoplifting strikes at the heart of the British high street, and the Policing Minister has asked forces to take a zero tolerance approach to this crime.

“By enabling retailers to share better information on shoplifting with police forces and build up a national strategic picture, Project Pegasus will help crack down on criminal gangs across the country.”

Home Office minister Chris Philp said: “We have record police numbers and I expect them to help all retailers.

“This scheme will help all retailers, not just the big ones, as it will identify criminal gangs.

“It is an important part of the response.”