Stop treating shoplifting as minor crime, Cleverly tells police as offences hit new high

Stealing champagne stock image
430,104 shoplifting offences were recorded last year - Peter Dazeley/Photodisc

The Home Secretary has told police to stop treating shoplifting as a minor crime after rates hit a record high of nearly 1,200 offences a day.

A total of 430,104 shoplifting offences were logged by police last year – up 37 per cent on 2022 and the highest number since records began more than 20 years ago, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

However, Home Office data showed that the proportion of shoplifting offences solved fell from 15 per cent to 10.5 per cent, down from a high of 27.7 per cent in 2016.

Asked about the surge in shoplifting on Thursday, James Cleverly said he expected police to pursue every reasonable line of inquiry and say they would attend any such crime scene.

“There is no such thing as a sub-threshold crime. Crime is crime – it’s black and white. Criminal activity should be policed,” he said. “Crimes that people see have a corrosive effect on their confidence, and a lack of confidence to be able to live your full life is really important.

“When people see videos of shops being robbed, that has a corrosive effect – so we have to deal with it, which is why we’ve made it absolutely clear they [police] will pursue every reasonable line of inquiry.”

The figures come a fortnight after the Government announced a crackdown including tagging repeat shoplifters, with community behaviour orders banning them from shopping precincts, and a new standalone criminal offence of assaulting a shop worker with a maximum two years in jail.

Earlier this year, the British Retail Consortium reported a doubling in losses from thefts to £1.8 billion and an increase in incidents of violence or abuse towards shop workers from 870 to 1,300 a day.

It is estimated that the surge in shoplifting has added an average of £59 a year to every household’s grocery shop, as retailers cover the cost and pay for extra security measures.

Katy Bourne, the police and crime commissioner who is the national lead for retail crime, blamed the increase on organised gangs targeting stores, police downgrading the impact of the crime and shopkeepers being encouraged to report more to police.

Last October, police chiefs agreed to attend shoplifting incidents if there was violence against a store worker, a suspected thief was detained or officers were needed to secure evidence. Police said it was “not realistic” for officers to respond to every shoplifting incident.

The ONS data also showed that theft from a person also reached its highest level since 2004, at 125,564 offences in the year to December last year – up 18 per cent.

Yet fewer than one in 170 of these personal thefts result in an offender being charged. The proportion resulting in a charge has fallen from one per cent to 0.6 per cent, compared to a high of 2.2 per cent eight years ago.

Robberies of business property reported to police were up 38 per cent, from 6,970 to 9,633 in the year ending December last year – the highest since 2004. Robbery of personal property was up 9.9 per cent, from 65,000 to 71,000 – the highest since 2019.

The proportion of robberies resulting in a charge has fallen from 6.8 per cent to 3.5 per cent.

Ahead of the mayoral elections in London, knife crime in the capital has hit a record high of 14,577 offences in the year to December, up 20 per cent in a year and overtaking the previous high of 14,552 in 2019.

Overall in England and Wales, knife crime was up 7.2 to 49,489, close to the record high of 51,202 in 2019. The increase was led by a spike in violent knife muggings, with robberies where a weapon was used up 19.6 per cent from 17,352 to 20,755.

Somerset and Avon, South Wales and the Metropolitan Police had the biggest increases, while 10 forces saw record high knife crime, including Somerset and Avon (1,485), the Met (14,577), Northumbria (1,160), Dorset (328), Wiltshire (309) and Gwent (368).

Since 2013, knife crime in metropolitan forces has jumped by 69.6 per cent, but has risen faster in rural and urban-rural forces, going up by 96 per cent.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “These shocking figures show the scale of Conservative failure on law and order, with another steep increase in knife crime and robbery and record high shoplifting where organised criminals are just getting away with it.

“The Tories are badly failing to get a grip on the changing patterns of crime. Our country can’t afford to carry on like this.”

Chris Philp, the policing minister, said: “Today’s figures show that communities are safer and our plan to cut crime and protect the public is working.

“Compared with 2010, people are now 60 per cent less likely to have their home burgled and around 40 per cent less likely to be victims of violent crime.

“We know there is always more to do. Earlier this month, we set out tough new action to clamp down on shoplifting and through the Criminal Justice Bill, we are giving the police more powers to seize dangerous weapons.”