The shoplifting epidemic has been largely put down to organised gangs – but some retail bosses are also blaming middle-class customers for fuelling the wave of store thefts.
Pilfering from shops in England and Wales soared by almost a third last year to the highest level in two decades, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.
As prices soared and household budgets were squeezed, more than 402,000 shoplifting offences were recorded in the year to September – up from 304,000 the previous year.
Shoplifting epidemic: Some of Britain’s retail bosses say middle-class shoppers are fuelling a wave of store thefts
The total cost of the crime amounts to almost £1billion a year. Some leading retailers have resorted to paying the police to upload the faces of convicted shoplifters on to a national database. But a number of retail bosses believe that self-service checkouts – which were introduced to cut costs – are tempting even well-off customers to be light-fingered.
Lance Forman, of smoked salmon producer H Forman & Son, said some customers were stealing his firm’s pricey delicacies. ‘I don’t think people always steal because they are desperate,’ he said. ‘If it’s available to be stolen they might just be tempted. ‘If you leave your front door open, people will come and steal. It’s a sad fact of life. Retailers are responsible.’
His comments echo those of Marks & Spencer chairman Archie Norman, who told LBC radio: ‘With the reduction of service you get in a lot of shops, a lot of people think this didn’t scan properly, or it’s very difficult to scan these things through and I shop here all the time. It’s not my fault. I’m owed it.’
Asda chairman Lord Stuart Rose said he believes the problem is now so widespread that shoplifting has essentially been ‘decriminalised’.
Rose claims the rise in retail crime is down to affluent shoppers helping themselves to smaller, high-priced items at selfservice checkouts.
Police chiefs have come under fire for the apparent lack of action in tackling the looting spree blighting stores.
A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said: ‘Unfortunately, the lack of an effective police response has left many criminals – including organised crime gangs – feeling like they can shoplift with impunity.’