Arrest shoplifters even if they steal goods under £200, says policing minister

Chris Philp policing minister shoplifting
Chris Philp said he will meet retail bosses and police leaders later this month to discuss plans to tackle beat shoplifting - Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street

Police must investigate shoplifting even if the goods are worth less than £200, the policing minister has said.

Chris Philp told The Telegraph that forces must investigate every single crime where there is CCTV evidence, including those of lower value.

Police chiefs have been accused of effectively decriminalising thefts worth less than £200 since changes to the law meant they were handled with a fine by post.

Figures show that the police fail to attend more than two thirds of serious retail crimes, even though shoplifting costs businesses almost £1 billion a year.

Asked by The Telegraph how police should respond to thefts from shops of goods worth under £200, he said: “The law says that this is still a criminal offence and police should be enforcing it comprehensively.

Shoplifting affects businesses up and down the country, large and small alike, and often entails violence or threats to retail workers. It should not be tolerated at any level. I expect a zero-tolerance approach to this criminality.”

Mr Philp added he would encourage security staff to intervene to prevent shoplifting where safe, pointing out: “They are legally entitled to do so as made clear in the legislation.”

He said that unless stringent action was taken, British cities could end up like San Francisco, where shops were forced to close because of an escalation in violent shoplifting.

He told Parliament two months ago: “We have seen that elsewhere in the world – I think in particular about San Francisco, as well as other American cities – where both the police and store security guards appear not to intervene and, as a consequence, stores are raided and stolen from on a large scale multiple times a day.

“In San Francisco, a number of shops have had to close down completely because shoplifting has become so rampant and out of control. For all those reasons, it needs to be taken extremely seriously. There is a very compelling case for doing that.”

Mr Philp revealed that he will meet retail bosses and police leaders later this month to discuss what more can be done to beat shoplifting.

“My expectation is that all shoplifting should be followed up where there is evidence, such as CCTV footage,” he said. “Otherwise, we risk escalation as we have seen in some US cities.

“From next April, every police force is receiving funding for anti-social behaviour hotspot patrols, which I would generally expect to include town centre retail areas.”

‘Treat shoplifting as a proper crime’

His intervention came after Ken Murphy, the Tesco chief executive, said that every store worker would be offered a body camera following an increase in violent attacks on them.

Meanwhile, Luke Johnson, the chairman of Gail’s Bakery, demanded that shoplifting be treated as a “proper crime”.

He told Times Radio: “This trend towards widespread, really widespread aggression, abuse and shoplifting is a new and scary phenomenon.

“I do think actually this is where we need to treat shoplifting as shop theft and see it as a proper crime and prosecute it.

“If the authorities were more active in that, then I think that would make a difference because I think it would discourage this sort of anti-social behaviour.”

The British Retail Consortium said that the police rarely turn up when incidents are reported.

Last week, Suella Braverman ordered the police to crack down on crime by following all reasonable lines of enquiry, and a source close to the Home Secretary said that included shoplifting.

‘Government has effectively decriminalised shoplifting’

David McKelvey, a former Scotland Yard detective, previously warned that police have stopped prosecuting thefts of less than £200.

The change stems from the requirement in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 for any shoplifting offence less than £200 to be treated as a summary offence, which should be handled through a penalty notice fine of just £70 without the thief having to turn up at magistrates.

Mr McKelvey said that the downgrade had been a green light to police to abandon prosecutions and investigations into such thefts, which could tie up an officer for six to eight hours when they could be tackling more serious crime.

He said in 2021: “The Government has effectively decriminalised shoplifting. Provided a thief stays below the £200 threshold, they are not going to be arrested. Police won’t be called and the worst they get is a fixed penalty of £70 and they are still in profit with £130.”