Inside Britain’s shoplifting epidemic – where shopkeepers are threatened with needles and thieves boast they’ll be back

OPEN all hours to serve their communities, our small shopkeepers are the fabric of the nation.

Now, under siege from a deepening and violent shoplifting epidemic, they are begging MPs and police to take action.


A brave shopkeeper in Leeds tackled a shoplifter appearing to carry a firearm
Britain's shoplifting epidemic is described as out of control with retailers demanding tougher action


Britain’s shoplifting epidemic is described as out of control with retailers demanding tougher actionCredit: Glen Minikin


Shopekeepers have witnesses brazen thieves steal from stores and pledge to come back the next day and do the same

Often unable to afford dedicated security guards, family businesses sometimes feel compelled to tackle shoplifters themselves to protect their livelihoods.

This includes grafters such as Saj Bhogal, whose Leeds corner shop has been targeted by robbers armed with an imitation gun and a samurai sword, as well as shoplifters waving hypodermic needles.

The dad-of-three, 55, told The Sun: “I chase after any shoplifters if I see them, I wear trainers to get my stuff back.

“They’re not just robbing me but taking money from my kids.”

Meanwhile, Birmingham shopkeeper Sumithra Kulandaivelu, 40, told us: “Shoplifters know they are never going to be caught. The ­judicial system is broken.”

Startling crime figures lay bare the anarchic crime wave blighting the nation’s high streets.

Police recorded 339,206 shoplifting incidents in the 12 months to March, yet the British Retail Consortium estimates the total number of retail thefts to be close to eight million.

Just 48,218 shoplifting cases recorded by the police, a derisory 14 per cent, resulted in a charge.

And 183,450 investigations — 54 per cent — were closed without a suspect being identified.

The BRC say retail theft rose by 26 per cent in England and Wales last year.

Britain, famously hailed as a nation of shopkeepers, is now one plagued by shoplifters.

Police do not even turn up to more than two-thirds of retail crimes.

Little wonder swaggering crooks steal and steal again with impunity.

In July one shoplifter was filmed piling booze into a duffle bag in a London Co-op before telling staff: “Have a nice day. I’ll be back tomorrow — same time.”

In 2014, the Government downgraded the stealing of goods worth less than £200 to a summary offence in almost all cases, often punishable by a feeble £70 fine.

Shoplifters who plead guilty can pay their fines by post without even having to appear in court.

Asda chairman Lord Stuart Rose insisted this week that shoplifting had effectively been “decriminalised”, adding: “It’s just not seen as a crime any more.”

The crimewave costs big business and family owned corner shops just under a billion pounds a year.

Ben Hutchinson, 21, who works in Newcastle upon Tyne’s Hutchinsons Fruit & Vegetables, told The Sun: “We never call the police now.

“If we catch a shoplifter, we will instantly bar them because the police are too stretched.”

Some of those thieving from shops are poverty-blighted people stealing food for their families in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis.

Many others are violent, organised criminals turning retail theft into a lucrative business.

The Co-op says “out-of-control crime” at its stores is usually ­committed by “repeat offenders and criminal gangs operating exempt from consequences”.

While Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said this week: “In the past, shop theft has been dominated by people with chaotic lives and driven by a drug dependency.

“However, there now seems to be a more organised approach, with people stealing to order.”

The British Retail Consortium says incidents of violence and abuse against store workers almost doubled from more than 450 per day in 2019-20 to more than 850 last year.

Stores including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Boots, John Lewis and Waitrose are now issuing staff with bodycams.

Physical assaults on Tesco workers are up by a third on last year.
Tesco chief executive Ken Murphy called the attacks on staff “unacceptable” and “heartbreaking”.

He would like to see incidents of violence or abusive behaviour towards a shop worker made a criminal offence, as is the case in Scotland.

Meanwhile, Waitrose and John Lewis have offered cops free coffee in the hope that their presence will deter would-be shoplifters.

In a practice once confined to badly affected US cities, such as San Francisco, goods in Britain’s shops are increasingly being kept under lock and key.

This week, The Sun revealed how home furnishing giant Dunelm is locking up its duvets and pillowcases in PIN-protected cabinets.

In February, Co-op’s Wimbledon branch in South London locked away cuts of beef worth £3.75, as well as £5.50 ribeye steaks and £7.50 fillet steaks.

Last December, Tesco Express in Taunton, Somerset, resorted to putting security tags on cheese.

Policing minister Chris Philp this week insisted cops must investigate every single shoplifting crime where there is CCTV evidence, even if the goods are worth less than £200.

The minister said: “I expect a zero-tolerance approach to this ­criminality.”

And Home Secretary Suella Braverman said police should investigate all thefts as part of a crime crackdown.

The Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents more than 130,000 officers, called her announcement “headline-grabbing”.

Its National chairman Steve Hartshorn said: “It can only be done if the Government provides adequate resources to ­officers and makes sustained investment in the police service.

“Our officers are stretched beyond human limits and I am not sure how much additional pressure our forces will be able to withstand.”

Small businesses, often the eyes and ears of communities, are at the front line of this tidal wave of crime.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “Our members are at the sharp end, seeing crime in their communities getting steadily worse.”

On the right we speak to store owners and staff across Britain who say they feel ignored by police, neglected by politicians and let down by the justice system.

Shoplifting rise

  • 8MILLION thefts estimated by the retail industry
  • Only 300k were recorded in 12 months to March
  • Of those, only 48,218 cases ended in a charge – just 14%
  • And 183,450 cases (54%) were closed by cops with no suspects identified

Newcastle upon Tyne


Margaret Caffrey says she worries about armed robbers attempted to steal from the marketCredit: NNP

HUTCHINSONS Fruit & ­Vegetables is a family business that has served the community for more than 50 years.

Ben Hutchinson, 21, who helps run the store, says: “We never call the police now. The police are too stretched.”

In the Arthur’s Hill and City Centre area of Newcastle, businesses have seen a 46 per cent rise in theft in the past year.

Margaret Caffrey, 65, who works at the Petticoat Lane underwear shop in the city centre’s Grainger Market, says: “We think that they pinch the underwear then go to the pub to try to sell them on.

“My husband goes mad at me and tells me not to ­confront them.

“When you hear of people carrying knives, it does make you fearful.”



Sumithra Kulandaivelu says the problem is getting worse and her family store has lost thousandsCredit: Paul Tonge

AT Birmingham’s Select & Save convenience store, shopkeeper Sumithra Kulandaivelu says brazen thieves believe they will never be caught.

Sumithra, who has worked in her sister’s general store in Hill Street for five years, told The Sun: “The judicial system is broken.”

The 40-year-old revealed: “We have cameras all over the shop but it’s impossible to stop people who have no intention of paying.

“And because we know people can be very aggressive or even armed with knives, it’s just not worth chasing them or calling the police.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve lost thousands of pounds of stock and it’s got worse over the past two years.”



Pavananthi Sachithanatham says children as young as 12 target shops armed with swordsCredit: Darren Fletcher

TENDING a till in England’s worst shoplifting hotspot, the suburb of Durrington in West Sussex seaside town Worthing, can be a ­terrifying experience.

Lucy Sparrow, a shop assistant at Budgens, said: “There’s no law and order. My colleagues have been threatened. It’s appalling.”

Durrington South saw 487 shoplifting crimes last year, almost 20 per shop, which proportionally is the highest in England and Wales.

Pavananthi Sachithanatham, the manager of a Premier store, told how children as young as 12 targeted shops with swords.

He said: “We’ve lost a lot. We do not feel supported.”

Sussex Police say the spike in figures comes because their pilot scheme sees every shoplifting offence logged with them.



Saj Bhogal says tougher punishments are needed for shoplifters – the attempted robbery at his store (top of the page) was foiled by his staffCredit: Glen Minikin

SAJ BHOGAL’S corner shop has been ­targeted by shoplifters ­waving hypodermic needles as well as robbers armed with an imitation firearm and a samurai sword.

But the hard-working dad of three says he and his staff put up a fight.

Saj, who has run his One Stop grocery store for 35 years, said: “Most of the time they are after coffee, steak or baby food that they can sell on.

“I recently caught a guy with a bag full of items. I rugby-tackled him and got my stuff back.”

Leeds city centre has seen a huge surge in shoplifting, with 2,157 crimes recorded — an 83 per cent increase on the previous year.

Saj, 55, whose shop is in Roundhay, added: “We need tougher punishments.”



Staff at a store in Dundee say they record around 30 shoplifting incidents a dayCredit: Andrew Barr

GREENS in the Stobswell area is losing at least £2,000 a week to shoplifters, and staff and shoppers are terrified.

Thugs recently walked out with a juice machine while another threatened workers with a knife as he stole a £2 bag of chips.

Area manager Omar Ahmad said: “It’s been an absolute nightmare.

“We’ve got about 30 incidents a day. It’s almost like they have a shopping list.”

Staff have been punched and kicked as they attempted to stop thieves, and assistant ­manager Michael Fowler says police are not responding to calls or taking as long as 20 minutes to arrive, which makes life harder.

A Police Scotland spokesman said the force will now be carrying out extra patrols. Inside Britain’s shoplifting epidemic – where shopkeepers are threatened with needles and thieves boast they’ll be back

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