Facing 'torrent of theft', UK retailers press for police action

FILE PHOTO: People walk past mannequins in a shopping centre

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) - A coalition of British retail industry groups and shopworkers union USDAW has written to police leaders in England and Wales calling on them to back a plan to counter a "torrent of theft".

The British Retail Consortium estimates the cost of theft in the sector has reached 1 billion pounds ($1.24 billion) a year and local convenience stores are reporting the highest levels of shop theft recorded in the last decade.

Last week the John Lewis Partnership, owner of department stores and Waitrose supermarkets, said Britain was seeing an "epidemic" of shoplifting, with its own "shrinkage", mainly theft, up by 12 million pounds in its first half.

Similarly, clothing chain Primark said its profit margins had been hit by increased theft, while supermarket Tesco said rising store crime had led it to offer its staff body-cams.

In the letter to the Police and Crime Commissioners, who are responsible for setting police priorities and budgets locally, published on Wednesday the industry groups called on forces to make it easier for retailers to report crime and share evidence such as CCTV footage.

They also want police resources targeted on getting prolific repeat offenders off the streets, and want forces to prioritise collecting evidence of violent attacks against shopworkers.

"Shop theft is far from a minor crime, it is the primary trigger for violence and abuse of shopworkers and often committed by prolific offenders or organised crime gangs," the letter, also signed by the Association of Convenience Stores, the British Independent Retail Association, the Federation of Small Businesses and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, read.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners' lead for business and retail, Sussex PCC Katy Bourne, said she understood the retail sector's frustration and is working with the police to improve their response.

"From the many businesses I have met it is sadly evident that, too often, the policing response they have received – assuming they got one - is not what they expect," she said.

But she acknowledged that police forces face a huge daily demand on their finite resources.

($1 = 0.8064 pounds)

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Hugh Lawson)