Shoplifting gangs given 'freedom to loot' by lax police

Violent shoplifting gangs given the ‘freedom to loot’ by lax policing has left staff living under a reign of terror from armed thugs with almost 1,000 incidents a day, store bosses warn

  • Shoplifting, violence and antisocial behaviour in Co-ops is up 35% in 6 months
  • READ MORE: Shoplifting epidemic turning High Street stores into battlefields

Violent shoplifting gangs have effectively been given ‘freedom to loot’ by lax policing, store bosses have warned.

In the first six months of the year, shoplifting, violence and antisocial behaviour in Co-op stores rocketed by 35 per cent to more than 175,000 incidents, almost a thousand a day.

Shop staff, many of whom worked throughout the pandemic, have been terrorised by thugs, who are sometimes armed, with assaults up by 30 per cent.

Co-op complains that many stores have been abandoned by the police.

In the first six months of the year, shoplifting, violence and antisocial behaviour in Co-op stores  (file photo) rocketed by 35 per cent to more than 175,000 incidents, almost a thousand a day

Matt Hood, the managing director of Co-op Food, says: ‘I have seen some horrific incidents of brazen and violent theft in our stores, where my colleagues felt scared and threatened.

READ MORE: Shoplifting epidemic that has turned Britain’s High Street stores into battlefields

‘Too often, forces fail to respond to desperate calls by our store teams, and criminals are operating in communities without any fear of consequences.’

One Co-op outlet was raided three times on the same day, while others have been hit as many as 50 times.

Staff have described armed thugs flashing screwdrivers or knives at them, and gangs smashing through doors.

Thieves typically target store kiosk areas – which have high-value cigarettes – and alcohol aisles.

However, items including meat, coffee, and even baby formula and nappies are in their sights.

The Co-op warns that the situation has become so bad, it may have to shut stores in some areas.

Yasmin, a store manager in north-west London, says: ‘One colleague collapsed recently due to the fear. I can’t help thinking, what if the worst had happened? What if they hadn’t gone home to their family that night?

‘We risked our lives working through Covid and now it feels like we are risking our lives all over again.’

The Co-op says a Freedom of Information request has revealed that, on average, the police do not respond to 71 per cent of reports of serious retail crime.

The Co-op says: ‘Criminals have “freedom to loot”, with rampant crime predominantly committed by repeat and prolific offenders, with drug or alcohol addicts and organised criminal gangs among the main drivers of offending.’

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) says thefts from shops rose by 26 per cent in 2022 and puts the total cost of shoplifting at nearly £1billion.

James Lowman, head of the Association of Convenience Stores, says: ‘The police have to face up to theft, violence and antisocial behaviour in and around local shops.’

Police data suggests a rise of up to 75 per cent when it comes to people stealing food, drink and essential items such as baby formula and laundry tablets from supermarkets

Security tags attached to four pint bottles of milk at a Tesco Extra in Poole following incidents of shoplifting

He adds: ‘Shop theft is rising because repeat offenders and organised criminals are targeting local shops to steal goods to resell. They exploit vulnerable people by getting them to steal to order in exchange for their next fix.’

READ MORE: Mother-of three, 41, who was ‘attacked by teenage shoplifter’ outside Co-op while PCSO refused to intervene slams police

Conservative MP Philip Davies, who is chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Customer Service, says: ‘This patchy record of police forces uncovered by the Co-op is simply not good enough. Our frontline workers deserve far better.

‘It is no good having stricter laws in place to punish offenders if the police are not properly investigating.’

The Co-op says it does work closely with a few police forces to tackle the problem, including Nottinghamshire.

As a result, 17 prolific offenders have been jailed this year and another 13 have been given a criminal behaviour order or rehabilitation.

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