Shoplifting epidemic revealed to be costing London £9.2million a month

Shoplifting is estimated to cost London £9.2 million every month, the Evening Standard can reveal — with new figures showing a 48 per cent spike in offences.

Brazen thieves have burst in to stores with wheelie bins, suitcases and holdalls to clear shelves of items. Staff who try to intervene are subjected to racist and sexist slurs, threats and violence.

One Co-op store in inner London was looted three times in one day by organised gangs. Matt Hood, its food managing director, described the crime wave as “out of control”.

Retailers are said to be so demoralised by perceived police inaction that they don’t even bother to report nine in 10 incidents, the Standard found. According to data obtained by this newspaper, 55,860 shoplifting offences were recorded across London in the past year, an increase of 48.3 per cent on the previous 12 months — and nearly double the 25 per cent rise nationally. But only 3,462 of the London crimes were solved, just six per cent.

In November alone there were 4,790 crimes — 159 per day. However, experts say 90 per cent of shoplifting goes unreported because police won’t investigate any incident below £200, meaning losses in London could have topped £110 million in 2023.

The British Retail Consortium puts the nationwide figure at £1.7 billion. Shoplifting is the fastest-growing crime in London and the scale of the problem is so great that some shopkeepers face going out of business or leaving neighbourhoods.

Caroline Pidgeon, City Hall police and crime spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “The increase in shoplifting across London is unacceptable.

"The Met commissioner and [Mayor] Sadiq Khan need to get to grips with a problem that is quickly becoming endemic. The fact that the rate of shoplifting has risen so much in London compared to the rest of the country is a real concern.”

 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

She urged the force to “get back to the basics” by attending shoplifting incidents, adding: “While larger chain stores such as supermarkets may be able to afford private security, this isn’t the case for London’s small businesses, especially in the economic circumstances where margins are tight.”

Mr Khan told London Assembly members that it was “a big source of concern” that police officers were not being sent to 71 per cent of store thefts. He vowed to raise it urgently with Met chief Sir Mark Rowley. Commander Kyle Gordon, who is leading the Met’s new shoplifting taskforce, described local shops as the “lifeblood of communities” and said: “Victims are suffering. If you’re a family-run corner store, it might be enough to push you towards it no longer being feasible.”

The officer said a “game-changing” trial of facial recognition technology had already identified 150 serial suspects when CCTV images were compared against the force’s mugshot database. He added: “We’ll never arrest our way out of this — it’s a societal issue that has been around since the Ten Commandments. But this initiative is looking at the most harmful offenders and then building a good case to pursue them.”

Ex-Met detective Mick Neville, now a CCTV security expert, wrote to Met chief Sir Mark saying he could return to double the number of offenders identified from shop footage.

“What we’ve found is 100 thefts are not committed by 100 shoplifters, it’s about 10,” he said. “People feel an entitlement to steal and when they are stopped, that’s when it gets violent and needles and knives come out.

“And they know even when caught on CCTV, they’re getting a ten bob sentence.

“At the moment, shoplifting looks like a good gamble.”

David McKelvey, another former Met detective chief inspector, runs a private security firm in 15 business districts including Chelsea’s King’s Road, Knightsbridge, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Fitzrovia, Acton, Ealing and Romford.

Last October, a video went viral on social media of TM Eye’s prolific crimes team apprehending a gang robbing £3,000 worth of electrical goods at Tesco in Waltham Abbey.

Mr McKelvey claims to have prosecuted 300 shoplifters with a near 100 per cent conviction rate.

“What we are doing is not rocket science, it’s what the police used to do,” he told the Standard, adding: “Yes there is an epidemic and a lot of violence towards staff, but this can be turned around in months – police, ourselves, the community, ministers and courts all working together.

“The reality of retail crime means we all pay more for a tin of beans.”

Project Pegasus, a new national police intelligence unit set up to track down organised gangs, started work a few weeks ago. John Lewis, Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer, Waitrose, and Next are among 13 major retailers funding the £600,000 squad.

Police renewed commitments to attend the scene of shoplifting incidents where there is violence or staff have detained a suspect.

We're watching you! Success of CCTV facial recognition cameras

It’s 10am at Ruxley Manor garden centre in Sidcup. Facial recognition cameras ping an alert to director James Evans’s mobile phone. A Facewatch system fitted in the shop in 2020 means he has access to a database of prolific shoplifters.

James Evans who is the MD of Ruxley Manor Garden Centre in Sidcup (Lucy Young)
James Evans who is the MD of Ruxley Manor Garden Centre in Sidcup (Lucy Young)

A man thwarted in the theft of £100 worth of products a few weeks ago is back. Staff monitor him from a distance but it is enough to make him pay this time. Mr Evans, 48, said he had installed the system because he was annoyed Ruxley Manor had become a “soft touch”.

Security officer Michael Brice adds Dave Sumner, Facewatch Data Protection Director, to the system in staff testing mode to check the facial recognition software and its alert system (Lucy Young)
Security officer Michael Brice adds Dave Sumner, Facewatch Data Protection Director, to the system in staff testing mode to check the facial recognition software and its alert system (Lucy Young)

He said: “People stealing are not thinking about that at all. Now we approach them and let them know the reason they’re on the system. Their reaction is usually priceless.” CCTV caught a woman swapping price labels on a £160 bonsai tree at Ruxley Manor for a smaller £30 one.

When she attempted the same thing two weeks later, the thief was told to pay the £130 difference under the threat of police action.