Shoplifting ‘effectively decriminalised’ under the SNP, Tories claim

Police Scotland
Police Scotland

Shoplifting has been effectively “decriminalised” in Scotland under the SNP, it has been claimed, with cases rising by more than a third in a single year to a record high.

Scottish Government figures showed overall crime levels rose by four per cent in 2023/24, with non-sexual crimes of violence surging by the same amount.

The total of 71,463 violent offences was the highest level recorded in at least a decade and accounted for almost a quarter of all crimes recorded in Scotland.

Crimes of dishonesty also rose, by seven per cent, with shoplifting cases up by 35 per cent in a year.

The proportion of shoplifting reports “cleared up” by the police has declined over 10 years from around three-quarters to barely half, a record low.

Angela Constance, the SNP Justice Secretary, said overall crime levels remained at a historic low and the Scottish Government had recently increased Police Scotland’s funding so it could recruit more officers.

But the Tories blamed the SNP’s “weak justice” for the rise in shoplifting. Retailers warned the figures obscured the real number of cases as lack of confidence in the police meant many were not reported.

It emerged in May that officer numbers had dropped to their lowest level in 15 years. Police Scotland had 16,356 full-time equivalent officers at the end of March 2024, down 259 on 2023 and the lowest level since the end of September 2008.

The force previously announced it was rolling out a pilot in the northeast of Scotland whereby some minor crimes were not investigated if they were deemed to require excessive manpower.

Russell Findlay, the Scottish Tories’ shadow justice secretary, said: “The sickening rise in violence on Scotland’s streets is a direct consequence of 17 years of SNP underfunding of policing and neglect of the wider justice system. Their weak justice agenda benefits criminals and betrays victims.

“The shocking rise in retail crime, which endangers staff, harms business and drives up prices for everyone is also due to SNP weak justice.

“Despairing retailers, who are at the heart of our communities, feel abandoned and unprotected with shoplifting effectively now decriminalised by John Swinney’s government.”

David Lonsdale, director of trade body the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “It’s appalling that shoplifting has soared to a 10-year high. Despite record spending by retailers on crime prevention the rate of thefts continues to rise.

“In fact, these figures won’t even capture the full picture as many thefts aren’t reported by retailers as they believe little action will be taken.” He urged ministers and police to give retail crimes a higher priority.

Decrease during the pandemic

The Scottish Government report said there had been an “increasing trend” in shoplifting since 2014/15, which was interrupted by a decrease during the pandemic.

However, cases rose sharply in 2021/22 and 2022/24, before the 35 per cent rise to 38,674 crimes over 2023/24. This is 15 per cent higher than the previous record, in 2018/19, and means shoplifting has risen by 41 per cent over the past decade.

Minor assaults accounted for 83 per cent of all violent crime. There was also an 11 per cent rise in other non-sexual violence and an 18 per cent rise in robbery.

Over the past 10 years the overall number of violent crimes has surged by nine per cent to a “significantly higher level” than that recorded in 1971.

Cyber crime has surged by almost 120 per cent in four years, with offences including online fraud, sex crimes and the deliberate spreading of computer viruses.

An estimated 2,080 cases of threats and extortion were cyber crimes, 14 per cent higher than the 1,830 recorded in 2022/23 and six times more than the estimated 290 cases in 2019/20.

Significant disruption to business

Most of these cases relate to “sextortion”, where the perpetrator threatens to reveal evidence of the victim’s online sexual activity unless they receive some form of monetary payment.

Ms Constance said: “I recognise that retail crime can cause significant disruption to businesses, which is why we support the Scottish Partnership Against Acquisitive Crime, led by Police Scotland, which targets enforcement activity and offers advice on preventative measures.

“There is always more that can be done to reduce crime, which is why Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority are working to ensure the necessary resources and expertise are in place to tackle emerging areas of crime.”

Police Scotland said: “We work closely with partners in the retail and business sectors to deter, prevent and investigate retail crime.

“Where we identify businesses which are being targeted by shoplifters, we have trained officers who can attend and carry out security surveys and offer advice around prevention.”