Suella Braverman must stop thieves, says RUTH SUNDERLAND
- A tough stance against shoplifting would win votes for the Conservatives
- The current climate of cynicism and impunity is an affront to many voters.
- At the heart of this is the misconception that shoplifting is a minor or victimless crime.
When Ken Murphy, the boss of Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, spoke out last month against the wave of theft and violence against store staff, he lit up a blue ballot.
He has performed a valuable public service. Until highlighted in our sister newspaper The Mail on Sunday, which launched an anti-shoplifting campaign, the epidemic of shoplifting and bullying was not being taken seriously enough.
With a couple of honorable exceptions, including the Co-op, other store bosses were reluctant to speak out about the scourge, probably for fear of driving away customers.
The silence was part of the problem, because it allowed ministers and police chiefs to ignore him. But when Tesco’s CEO speaks, he changes the rules of the game: everyone has to listen.
Their intervention has kept retail crime at the top of the news agenda everywhere. With all due deference to Russell Brand, it’s hard to think of a topic that has struck such a chord. Murphy and the chief executives of 80 other stores requested a meeting with Interior Minister Suella Braverman this week to present their demands for changes to the law and stricter policing.
Electoral boost: A tough stance on shoplifting would win votes for the Conservatives
A tough stance on shoplifting would win votes for the Conservatives.
The current climate of cynicism and impunity, in which most crimes go unpunished, is an affront to many voters. At the heart of this is the misconception that shoplifting is a petty or victimless crime, apparently shared by singer Robbie Williams, who made reckless jokes on social media.
One wonders what his fans who work in retail think of that.
Shoplifting is not trivial. It is rising at a time when reported crimes overall are declining: There were more than 342,000 cases in the year to March, an increase of almost 25 percent from the previous year. Those figures are almost certainly underestimated.
As crimes have increased, prosecutions have been decreasing. Just over 21,000 people in England and Wales were prosecuted for shoplifting in the year to June 2022, around a quarter of the figure a decade ago.
In isolation, many incidents of retail crime do not involve major loss or serious damage, but the cumulative effect is enormous.
Retailers lost almost £1bn to shoplifting in the year to April 2022 and spent more than £700m on crime prevention. Even more significant is the physical and psychological harm to retail staff and customers who are victims of abusive or violent incidents.
Communities will be ruined if shops are forced to close their shutters due to persistent thefts and attacks.
Closures are already occurring in the United States, where the discount chain Target announced last week that it will close its points of sale.
What can be done? Attacks on shop staff should be classified as a specific crime. Added to some exemplary sentences, that would send a strong message.
Police forces are overstretched, but retailers complain bitterly about the inadequate response. That needs to improve.
Other measures include in-store surveillance and helping stores identify and ban the worst offenders.
One idea is a “most wanted rogues” gallery, which retailers could access online from police. There are dangers, but a thief’s right to privacy should not take precedence over the rights of others to work and shop safely.
Our high streets have been hit by a series of setbacks. The last thing you need is a rampant crime wave.