John Lewis executive says shoplifting epidemic is NOT down to the cost of living crisis – as video shows brazen thieves piling tech and clothes into their bags in stores

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The dramatic rise in shoplifting is mainly being fuelled by criminal gangs rather than people struggling with the cost of living crisis, the head of security at John Lewis has told MailOnline. 

Retail thefts have now risen by 27 per cent overall across ten of the UK’s largest cities – and were up by 68 per cent in some, according to the British Retail Consortium.

The trade body added that incidents of violence and abuse against retail staff have nearly doubled from more than 450 per day in 2019/2020 to more than 850 last year – with crimes including racial or sexual abuse, assault and threats with weapons.

In CCTV footage from inside John Lewis, obtained exclusively by MailOnline, one man wearing a black jumper crouches down and opens a black bin bag before stashing two Pure speakers inside.

He looks up to a higher shelf and appears to select the most expensive item he can find – a Pure radio worth £369.

In the first video from John Lewis, a man wearing a black jumper crouches down and opens a black bin bag before stashing two Pure speakers inside

In the first video from John Lewis, a man wearing a black jumper crouches down and opens a black bin bag before stashing two Pure speakers inside

The shoplifter then looks up to a higher shelf and appears to select the most expensive item he can find - a Pure radio worth £369

The shoplifter then looks up to a higher shelf and appears to select the most expensive item he can find – a Pure radio worth £369

He then grabs the price sticker for the radio and stashes it in his bin bag along with the other stolen goods and begins walking out.

In a second video, a man walks up to a pile of yellow tops and grabs them.

He walks off with them in his hand, before turning around again and exposing his face to the CCTV camera. Finally, he leans over and stuffs them in his bag.

In both cases the shoplifters were detained by security staff before being arrested by police.

Lucy Brown, Director of Security for the John Lewis Partnership, spoke about the UK’s shoplifting crisis in an exclusive interview with MailOnline.

READ MORE – RICHARD WALKER: Britain’s shoplifting epidemic makes it feel like Iceland staff are on the frontline of a war 

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‘Some shops are targeted every day, others several times a day. And we’re fortunate because we’re not the worst hit,’ she said.

‘We’ve seen a real increase post-Covid. We don’t believe it’s linked to the cost of living.

‘You have people living chaotic lives with substance abuse who are stealing to fund their habits.

‘Another major problem – which is new – are organised criminal gangs. They spend as much time shoplifting as we do on our normal jobs. They will target Tube routes, road networks and steal to order.

‘There have been gangs operating across North London going from shop to shop and threatening teams with violence.

‘The stuff they target tends to be whatever has the highest retail value on the black market.

‘That includes alcohol in Waitrose, and in John Lewis portable tech and high value dental products like toothbrushes.

‘It’s high value, easy to carry and easy to dispose of. Another thing is high-value fragrances like Tom Ford.’

Ms Brown said the John Lewis Partnership – which runs both John Lewis and Waitrose – has been investing heavily in its store security.

‘We’ve observed that really attentive customer service deters thieves, so we’ve provided a lot of training to our staff,’ she said.

In a second video, a man walks up to a pile of yellow tops and grabs them off the shelf

In a second video, a man walks up to a pile of yellow tops and grabs them off the shelf 

He turns around again and exposing his face to the CCTV camera. In both cases the shoplifters were detained before being arrested by police

He turns around again and exposing his face to the CCTV camera. In both cases the shoplifters were detained before being arrested by police

‘Impulsive thieves will be put off, while people from organised gangs don’t want to be seen and recognised

‘We also have a number of technological solutions including really good CCTV and body-worn cameras.

‘Those are proven to deescalate unpleasant situations and also record footage and audio that we can pass on to the police.

‘We’ve also invested in physical interventions like tags, alarms and security gates. We are always looking out for what’s new and what works.’

READ MORE – Boutique boss tackles thieves AGAIN: Moment brave businesswoman  catches shoplifter trying to steal £250 worth of Paco Rabanne 

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The security chief said the company had also brought in specially trained security teams who are able to detain shoplifters while they wait for police.

‘There’s a common misconception that we can’t stop people,’ he said.

‘But we have teams who are specially trained to detain people and are able to do so in stores before waiting for the police to arrive. They’ve been in place for a long time.

‘We report everything to the police so they can build a picture of how and where these people are operating.

‘We pride ourselves on putting really good evidence to the police, including audio, video and witness reports.’

Data released by the Co-op in July showed police are failing to attend more than two-thirds of retail crimes.

Ms Brown said John Lewis had faced similar issues.

‘In some areas we’ve got really good relations with the police and response rates. Unfortunately that’s not happening all over the country,’ she said.

‘There has to be a consequence to shoplifting. They should feel ashamed, it’s nothing to be proud about or boast on social media.

‘People believe this is acceptable and that it’s a victimless crime. They also think nothing will happen to them.

‘We’ve had instances where our security teams have been punched.

Lucy Brown is head of security at the John Lewis Partnership, which runs both John Lewis and Waitrose

Lucy Brown is head of security at the John Lewis Partnership, which runs both John Lewis and Waitrose 

Richard Walker, executive chairman of Iceland Foods, has also spoken out about the increase in violent attacks on staff across the UK high street

Richard Walker, executive chairman of Iceland Foods, has also spoken out about the increase in violent attacks on staff across the UK high street 

‘This is a social problem. We as retailers take our duty really seriously because it has an impact on our staff and the prices we have to charge our customers.

‘We would like to see a consistent level of police response and for the organised gangs to be taken off the streets.

‘We want people to understand that the people working in our shops are front line workers and they deserve respect and courtesy.’

John Lewis recently revealed that shoplifting cost its stores £12million last year.

Chair Dame Sharon White said she met with Sir Mark Rowley, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, last week to discuss the issue.

The retailer called on the Government to change legislation in England and Wales to make it a criminal offence to abuse shopworkers, in line with current rules in Scotland.

Last month, Waitrose said it was offering free tea and coffee to police officers in an effort to boost their presence around stores.

The company said it mainly saw a rise in the cost of crime due to theft, as well as ‘related wastage’.

Ms White said: ‘Like other retailers, we have seen more activity linked to organised crime.

‘We have raised the issue because the safety of our staff is incredibly important, as a business we also feel this is an important issue from a societal point of view.’

Last week the boss of Iceland, Richard Walker, became the latest retail leader to speak out about the increase in violent attacks on staff working at high street stores.

In an exclusive op-ed for MailOnline, he claimed that three Iceland staff are HIV positive after being attacked by shoplifters with hypodermic needles. 

‘Every single week I receive an average of 12 reports of ”serious incidents” where managers and other colleagues have been attacked in our stores, almost always by shoplifters,’ Mr Walker wrote. 

‘Colleagues are being slapped, punched and threatened with a range of weapons including knives, hammers, firearms and hypodermic needles.

‘Three of our store colleagues are now HIV positive as a result of needle attacks several years ago. Other assaults have resulted in injuries ranging from a broken jaw to a fractured skull.’

A shoplifter has a tug of war with a Co-op worker in Liverpool

A shoplifter has a tug of war with a Co-op worker in Liverpool 

Mr Walker revealed that the chain is losing £20million a year through shoplifting as he called for more powers to tackle criminals.

He said security guards should be given the power to search suspects – which they currently can only do with their consent.

He also complained that data protection laws had stopped his employees from sharing photos of shoplifters with nearby stores or post their faces on notice boards.

‘We’ve had a run in in the past with the Information Commissioner’s Office because sharing photos of known shoplifters with other stores on the high street via WhatsApp groups apparently breaches their human rights under GDPR,’ he said, referring to General Data Protection Regulation dating back to 2018.

‘When I started working in stores I used to print of faces on the board so staff could be aware but even that may not be allowed now. We are investing record amounts on security but we need legislation and government support.’

Currently, security guards have no more powers than the ordinary public. They are unable to search suspects without their consent, and while they can perform a citizen’s arrest this leaves them open to being sued.

‘The criminals know this, particularly the organised one – they know their rights,’ Mr Walker said in an exclusive interview. ‘We need more powers for security personnel to search suspects and detain them until police arrive.

Team leader Charlene Corbin was bottled by a shoplifter at the Co-Op where she works

Team leader Charlene Corbin was bottled by a shoplifter at the Co-Op where she works

‘Unfortunately, police ignore 70 per cent of calls for help with store thefts. It’s not necessarily their fault. They need to have the resources to allow them to take this crime epidemic seriously.

‘We also need the courts to impose serious sentences. It’s almost become seen as a crime without punishment.’

Mr Walker added: ‘We call them frontline colleagues because they are the first point of contact with customers but sometimes it feels like they’re on the frontline of a war.’

Paul Gerrard, Co-op’s campaigns and public affairs director, said the number of cases of violence being used against staff had also increased by 25 per cent. 

‘We are running at about a thousand incidents of shoplifting a day across our two and a half thousand stores,’ he told MailOnline.

‘Four or five colleagues will be physically attacked every day. We’ve seen syringes, knives and we even saw a medieval mace a couple of years ago.’

The chain has invested in undercover security guards who perform citizen’s arrests on thieves.

‘These are highly trained expert guards – often ex-police and ex forces – who work undercover in stores where there’s a particular problem,’ Mr Gerrard said.

‘They will intervene and make a citizen’s arrest and detain the individual.’

Mr Gerrard said the Co-op had invested heavily in store security but needed tougher enforcement to tackle the problem.

‘Some forces are really good at coming out and some are really bad – there’s no consistency at all,’ he said. 




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