Organised crime fears as shoplifting leaves Scots retailers £90 million out of pocket

Organised crime fears as shoplifting costs Scottish retailers £90 million
Organised crime fears as shoplifting costs Scottish retailers £90 million

Shoplifting cost Scottish retailers an eyewatering £90m last year, according to analysis from a leading industry body.

According to the latest recorded crime statistics, there were 28,619 shoplifting crimes in Scotland in 2022-23, up from 22,913 in 2021-22, an increase of 25%.

Though that hike can be partly explained by the Covid restrictions in place for much of 2021 and 2020, rates are still 3% higher than they were a decade ago.

While there rise in shoplifting has coincided with the cost of living crisis, both the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and the Scottish Grocers Federation (SGF) said there is some evidence that organised crime is behind some of the thefts, with gangs hitting whole towns and then moving on.

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It also is likely that the real crime figures are significantly higher than the statistics as many retailers will not bother reporting low-value thefts to police.

The Scottish Grocers Federation said a recent survey of their members found that "100% of retailers are regularly affected by crime."

Last month, the Co-op warned that soaring levels of retail crime could lead to some communities becoming "no-go" areas for their shops.

Across the UK, retailers lost £953m last year, with the Scottish Retail Consortium estimating that crime north of the border accounted for just under a tenth of that.

They warn that as well as the economic impact on businesses, theft can often lead to abuse of people who work in shops.

In their latest annual survey of over 7,500 shop workers, the trade union Usdaw found that 31% of incidents of violence, threats and abuse were related to shoplifting in 2022.

In 2021, Scotland introduced the Protection of Workers (Retail) Act, following a campaign by the SGF and Labour’s Daniel Johnson.

There have been 6,591 reported cases under the legislation since its introduction two years ago, with a detection rate of 61%.

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Ewan MacDonald-Russell, Deputy Head of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “The SRC estimates shoplifting cost Scottish retailers around £90 million last year.

"Far from being a victimless crime, the costs of shoplifting are borne by shoppers as well as those who rely on retail for their livelihoods.

"Thieving from stores means less money is available for keeping down prices on shop shelves, for staff wages or training, or store refurbishments and other improvements.”

SGF Chief Executive Dr Pete Cheema said they encouraged members to report all in store crimes: “Retailers and staff provide an essential community service. It’s completely unacceptable that they are forced to turn up to work and deal with daily cases of shop theft, anti-social behaviour and even threating abuse or violence.

“Our figures show that 100% of retailers are regularly affected by crime, seriously impacting the wellbeing of both workers and their families.

"There also appears to be a worrying increase in the number of incidents involving gangs and organised crime."

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie told The Herald on Sunday that every crime reported would be taken seriously and investigated.

“While there has been a 13.5% increase in acquisitive crime compared to the same period last year, it still remains lower than the five-year average and compared with pre-pandemic levels.

"The rise could be due to various reasons and not solely limited to the cost of living increase.

“Housebreaking continues to be significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels, while shoplifting and vehicle crime are lower than the five-year average despite year-on-year increases.”

A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service: “We would urge the victims or witnesses of such offending to come forward and report it to the police.

“COPFS will give careful consideration to any reports of alleged criminal conduct which are submitted by the police.

“Prosecutorial action will be taken if the reports contain sufficient admissible evidence of a crime and if it is appropriate and in the public interest to do so.”