Thousands of shoplifters still walking free after being detained, Co-op warns

Thousands of shoplifters are walking free after being detained by undercover guards in Co-op stores, as the retailer urged action to stop criminals viewing it as a crime without consequences.

The firm said there had been some early signs of improvement since the Government stepped in to help crack down on a spike in retail crime.

But it comes after reporting the highest levels of shop crime last year with more than 335,000 cases of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour across its food stores.

Co-op said that specially trained undercover guards detained about 3,360 suspected criminals across its stores during 2023.

Earlier this year, it found police failed to attend in nearly four out of five cases where someone had been detained in its shops.

New data shows that since the Government introduced its Retail Crime Action Plan, non-attendance rates have improved but police are still failing to attend in three out of five cases, Co-op told the PA news agency.

Co-op bosses have written to MSPs urging them to support Daniel Johnson's Bill
Co-op said there had been some early signs of progress since the Government’s action plan on retail crime (Co-op/PA)

It indicates that thousands of shoplifters are still walking free even after being caught by specialist security guards, which Co-op said sends the message that it is consequence-free crime.

The Government’s plan, launched late last year, included a police commitment to prioritise urgently attending the scene of shoplifting incidents involving violence against a shop worker, where security guards have detained an offender or to secure evidence.

Crime and policing minister Chris Philp said he wanted a new “zero-tolerance approach” to tackling shoplifting.

Matt Hood, Co-op’s managing director of food retail, said the issue is “critical and is not going away”, adding that repeat prolific offenders and organised criminal gangs were behind the spike in incidents.

He said the Government’s plan was welcomed by the retailer, but that he needs to “see it in action in our stores, so that the desperate calls from frontline colleagues to the police are responded to, and criminals do start to realise there are real consequences to their actions of shoplifting in our shops”.

In February, Co-op said its partnerships with a number of police forces, including in Nottinghamshire, Essex and Sussex, had over the past year removed and managed 110 prolific offenders, with a combined 30 years of custodial sentences.

It has also invested more than £200 million in recent years in staff safety, including bodyworn cameras, secure kiosks, locked doors on high-value products, and dummy or empty packaging to deter bulk theft.