Home » Inside Britain’s ‘out of control’ shoplifting crisis as even pound shops are targeted

Inside Britain’s ‘out of control’ shoplifting crisis as even pound shops are targeted

Such is the extent of the current wave of shoplifting that even pound shops are having to fit new security measures to head off losses in the thousands.

“Shoplifting is pretty horrific at the moment, it’s out of control completely,” says John Bebbington, owner of Everything One Pound in Bristol.

While major retailers have warned of the rise in the issue and the strain it puts on staff, it can be an even bigger challenge for independent businesses.

Mr Bebbington said theft has become a weekly scenario, and that he has been dealing with it while his wife recovers from cancer.

He puts the increase down to the cost-of-living crisis and the failure of criminal sanctions to act as a deterrent.

‘It’s a battle’

The 61-year-old has installed CCTV cameras, mirrors and cabinets, and changed the layout of the shop.

“The last few years, it’s been crazy – the audacity of it,” he said. “Whereas before people would walk in and look suspicious, and spend ages in the shop, now they literally walk in, pick up what they want to steal and walk out. That’s probably the biggest change.

“You can’t have anything shoplifters can walk behind. If I’ve got one person at the till, they’ve got to be able to see across all the tables of products, so any high racks with goods have to be at the back of the shop.

“We used to have piercings and belly bars up on the walls, but I had to spend £500 to put them all into cases because they were going missing, so they have to be covered now so people have to ask to see them.”

The small business owner said thieves who frequent the store even stole a children’s charity box.

Even pound shops have been affected by the spate of crimes
Even pound shops have been affected by the spate of crimes (John Bebbington)

Prominent in the shop now are two large boards warning thieves of live CCTV cameras and mirrors up – but thieving remains rampant.

Sunglasses near the till became an easy target and he said: “After opening up, it took about a minute before somebody put a pair of sunglasses in their pocket. I’ve now had to spend £600 to have specially designed stands to try and prevent the thefts, and that’s just this week.

“It’s a battle that you’re never going to win but if you stop fighting you might as well pack up and go home because they will destroy you.”

‘Nothing to lose’

Major retailers have been sounding the alarm over escalating rates of shoplifting, with offences in England and Wales rising to their highest level in 20 years.

In April the government announced plans for tougher sanctions under amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill, but the legislation has now been overtaken by the general election.

Mr Bebbington said law enforcement currently has little effect.

“If you go and pinch something that you really, really want you’re not going to get into trouble, you’re not going to get a criminal record, or get arrested,” he said. “There really is nothing to lose.”

Mr Bebbington has been forced to put jewellery in cabinets and hang up signs to deter thieves
Mr Bebbington has been forced to put jewellery in cabinets and hang up signs to deter thieves (John Bebbington)

‘Epidemic of shoplifting’

The boss of John Lewis said shoplifting has become an “epidemic” with a rise in organised gangs looting stores, and Archie Norman, chair of Marks and Spencer, said his staff get little help from the police.

Simply Business, a small business insurer, said that its research found shoplifting is a huge concern for small business owners and that more than half, 57 per cent, of respondents have lost over £250 to shoplifting in the past year alone.

More than 180 miles from Mr Bebbington’s shop is RD1 Clothing in Hastings, owned by Mickey Whiteman, who said the supermarkets bear the brunt of shoplifting – but his shop is not immune.

Recently a jacket went missing and CCTV footage showed a man walking out wearing two.

“The bloke, the next day… brought the coat back for a refund,” he said. “That’s what they do, they steal jackets then bring them back to get a refund, so you get stung twice.”

Mr Whiteman has argued that additional police officers should patrol in the town.

Tina McKenzie, policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said shoplifting is a “major source of stress for small retailers”.

She added: “Traditional crime, including organised shoplifting, took away more than £1,000 from over half of small business victims across England and Wales in the last two years, with one in ten losing more than £10,000.”

Assistant Chief Constable Alex Goss, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for retail crime, said forces are doing all they can “to reduce thefts and pursue offenders”.

“Late last year we worked with the government to develop the Retail Crime Action Plan which sets out clear guidelines for the response to retail crime, including following all reasonable lines of enquiry,” he said.