Rise in gangs robbing shopkeepers is not acceptable, Priti Patel warns police

·3-min read
Priti Patel has demanded the police to do more to tackle retail crime
Priti Patel has demanded the police to do more to tackle retail crime

Priti Patel has told police they are not doing enough to protect shopkeepers from being robbed by criminal gangs at cash and carry suppliers, warning them "if you don't do better, you will answer to me".

Violent thugs are increasingly targeting small retailers when they visit wholesalers to buy stock.

Criminal gangs either pounce on the shopkeepers in the car park once they have left the cash and carry, or carjack them while they are driving home.

The thieves are mainly looking to steal tobacco, but will take other items also, with shopkeepers losing an average of £5,000 worth of stock each time they are hit.

Business leaders claim the problem is getting worse because the police response when these incidents occur is wholly inadequate, leaving criminals to believe they can strike without risk of prosecution.

But after meeting industry representatives Ms Patel, whose parents were shopkeepers, demanded that police do more to tackle the scourge, saying they would answer to her if things did not improve.

On a visit to a Costco premises in Chingford, north London, with Iain Duncan Smith, the local MP, Ms Patel said: “I grew up in the retail world and I’ve seen the effect of having your stock stolen.

"Theft of high value products like tobacco can decimate a business. They can destroy cash flow, and the goodwill of the business as well.

“The police have to do more. They have to come down to wholesale outlets and work with wholesalers to make sure gangs are absolutely not preying on their customers.

“It’s important not only that we highlight the whole issue of wholesale crime, but actually that we work with police to ensure they work with wholesalers and retailers to stop this level of crime taking place.”

Ms Patel said she would be telling Borough Commanders: “It’s not good enough and we need police action. If they don’t do something about it, they will answer to me.”

Wholesalers have invested in CCTV, number plate recognition cameras and security patrols to protect their customers and colleagues.

But business leaders insist they need more support from the police to deter the criminal gangs.

James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors: “Today we told the Home Secretary that criminals who target retailers have no fear of being caught and prosecuted.

"Police response to thefts and robberies from customers in cash and carry car parks has been appalling.

"In many cases, officers have refused to even attend incidents, let alone investigate them.

"This is not shoplifting, it is organised crime, and it’s an issue for all cash and carry operators equally.

"A single tobacco theft can cost a small independent shop thousands of pounds. Increasingly, the criminals will use or threaten violence. Where wholesalers have put in security measures to protect their customers, the criminals have followed vehicles off the premises and attacked them in transit.

“It’s not right that small shop owners should be put at physical or financial risk because the police ignore these thefts and robberies.

"We have asked the Home Secretary to urgently instruct police forces to give greater priority to apprehending and prosecuting the criminals who do this."

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