Huge spike in Portsmouth shoplifting as reports to police nearly double leaving workers living in fear
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Data provided by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary show that reported incidents between April and September have nearly doubled since last year. Statistics published by the Co-Op also paint a bleak picture nationally, with cases of shoplifting steadily rising year on year as well as other more violent crimes.
Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan said employees do not deserve to be scared for their lives. He said: “I know from my recent visits to retailers in our community the impact of rising shoplifting on workers, who are now having to serve our city’s residents with fear and concern for their own safety.
“It cannot be right that many of these cases go unreported as shop workers do not believe anything will be done.” Police data shows 1,373 reports for shoplifting were made from April to September this year in Portsmouth, an 82 per cent increase from 753 the previous financial year.
A police spokesman said targeting shoplifters is a priority and any repeat offenders – or anyone who is violent to staff – will be “relentlessly” pursued. He added the force’s city centre team carry out regular patrols in shopping districts in Southsea and elsewhere.
Chief Inspector Paul Markham said: “We are working hard to address the recent increase in shoplifting offences in the city. This trend is not unique to Portsmouth, but we have been proactively working with the business community to encourage reporting so that we can build strong cases and take robust action against offenders.
"Some of the increase will be due to the number of reports actually made to us, rather than an increase in the number of offences taking place. The proactive approach we have been taking has increased the confidence of retailers in the city in reporting offences so that we have a clearer picture of what is happening.”
The Portsmouth Business Crime Reduction Partnership has been set up with the force and businesses city-wide, including companies in Gunwharf Quays and the Cascades. “Business owners and shop staff should not have to come to work and face criminal behaviour,” CI Markham added.
Data from the Co-Op shows there was a 24 per cent overall increase in shoplifting, in England and Wales, over the last 12 months. The conglomerate has also seen overall incidents – including anti-social behaviour and violent assaults – rise by 35 per cent year on year, with more than 175,000 incidents being recorded in the first six months of 2023, nearly 1,000 a day.
Multiple people have been charged or sentenced for shoplifting in recent months. Co-Op stores have been targeted in Queen Street in Portsea, Twyford Avenue in Stamshaw, Northern Parade, New Road in Buckland and other locations in Portchester, Emsworth and Havant. Several shops have also been hit in Commercial Road.
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A Southern Co-Op spokeswoman said despite the growing number of cases, positive steps are being taken to clamp down on the disgusting behaviour. “Whilst we have seen a rise in thefts, it’s important to stress that criminals are being prosecuted,” she told The News.
"Thanks to some strong collaborative working in Portsmouth, there has been a significant crack down recently which has an immediate positive impact on store colleagues. This is organised crime so it will also have been having a significant impact on the wider community and local residents.”
The spokeswoman added that the figures reflect the same increase other retailers are experiencing, and the co-op is continuing to invest in security, technology, loss prevention and training to try and mitigate shoplifting. “The issues we are tackling are just too big to face alone,” she said.
"This is why working together with others is so important, such as other businesses, community groups, good causes and local police.” Southern Co-Op has also donated more than £235,000 to local charities over the last few years to tackle the causes of crime such as addiction.
The business has joined up with the British Retail Consortium alongside 87 other retailers, including supermarket giants ASDA, Aldi, Marks & Spencer. Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and other huge brands, to urge the government to take more action.
The group have sent a signed letter to home secretary Suella Braverman to implement more measures to combat retail crime. This would include introducing a standalone offence for assaulting or abusing a retail worker, which would lead to tougher sentences.
They are also calling on police forces across the UK to prioritise responding to retail crime. Following a BRC freedom of information request – collating data from several police forces nationally – officers failed to respond to 73 per cent of serious retail crimes
Chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “It is vital that action is taken before the scourge of retail crime gets any worse.
"We are seeing organised gangs threatening staff with weapons and emptying stores. We are seeing violence against colleagues who are doing their job and asking for age-verification.
“We are seeing a torrent of abuse aimed at hardworking shop staff. It’s simply unacceptable – no one should have to go to work fearing for their safety. It’s time the Government put their words into action.”
The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) has also signed the letter. General secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Having to deal with repeated and persistent shoplifters can cause issues beyond the theft itself like anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers.
“Faced with such appallingly high levels of violence and abuse, along with a growing epidemic of retail crime, much more needs to be done.” Mr Morgan, of Labour, is supportive of the USDAW’s actions.
“The government’s continued inaction is putting shop workers at risk,” he added. "That’s why I’m joining USDAW in their calls for much more to be done to tackle the rise in shoplifting and protect workers on the frontline of retail.”