Retailers are spending £30 million a year on security and private ‘police forces’ to arrest and prosecute shoplifters after ‘giving up’ on getting help from the authorities, a Mail on Sunday investigation has found.
The move has seen some of the biggest brands in the UK resorting to a private army of uniformed ‘officers’ to protect staff from increasingly brazen and violent shoplifters.
While a conventional security company provides personnel to patrol individual stores, the modern forces cover entire shopping areas alongside private detectives – mostly highly experienced ex-police officers –who are able to investigate criminals and take them to court in private prosecutions.
So far, thousands of thieves have been arrested by the private firms and prosecuted, with many receiving either custodial sentences or being banned from stores.
The spread of private policing comes as the UK faces a shoplifting epidemic, with more than ten million thefts every year – about 30,000 per day or one every two seconds. Home Office data shows shoplifting rose by 24 per cent last year, as thieves take advantage of lax policing and a criminal justice system that lets off perpetrators without jail sentences.
So far, thousands of thieves have been arrested by the private firms and prosecuted, with many receiving either custodial sentences or being banned from stores
Ms Catalina aka Diana, aged 34 years of Great Cambridge Road, London, appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court on Saturday 27th May 2023, charged with Theft Shoplifting
Retailers are spending £30 million a year on security and private ‘police forces’ to arrest and prosecute shoplifters after ‘giving up’ on getting help from the authorities
The MoS last week launched a campaign to get authorities to act against shoplifting.
Our investigation has found:
- One private policing firm has successfully prosecuted 300 shoplifters on behalf of retailers;
- Organised criminal gangs are behind half of all shoplifting cases;
- Thieves are stealing meat from shops to sell to restaurants;
- A police unit called Pegasus has now been set up to gather intelligence to smash shoplifting gangs.
Across Britain there are 332 Business Improvement Districts – areas where firms pay into funds to improve local services – but now up to £30 million each year is being diverted to security and private policing firms in a bid to stop shoplifting, according to retail experts.
One firm, TM Eye, employs 100 ‘bobbies’, who wear police-like uniforms with red stab-proof vests, and 28 plain-clothes detectives who mingle with shoppers. Boss David McKelvey, a former detective chief inspector at Scotland Yard, said: ‘Retailers have given up on police investigating shoplifting. That’s why we do these prosecutions.’
When the firm’s detectives arrest shoplifters, they hand them over to the police. But if they believe they have enough evidence, they send it to magistrates’ court to request a private prosecution. So far the company has prosecuted 300 thieves in court, winning 299 cases.
Ten of Britain’s leading retailers have funded a £600,000 police operation called Pegasus. Detectives will study data, including CCTV, to create profiles of shoplifters and the gangs they belong to. The intelligence will be passed to police forces early next year. Katy Bourne, Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex, who is leading the project, said: ‘I want to see policing nationally to tackle gangs as they are the ones causing most harm.’
Our zero tolerance to this scourge – it is not a ‘minor’ crime
By Chris Philip, Minister for Policing
Shoplifting is not a ‘minor’ or ‘low-level’ crime. That’s why I want to see a zero-tolerance approach from police.
Theft from shops – whether large chains or independent retailers – is against the law and perpetrators could face a maximum sentence of seven years. And for good reason. The consequences are devastating.
The British Retail Consortium found nearly £1 billion was lost to theft between April 2021 and March 2022. For smaller shops, even a modest loss can ruin livelihoods.
But this is not just a question of financial losses. If shoplifting is left unchecked, the problem will escalate as perpetrators are emboldened to commit more crimes. As with many types of criminality, offending can escalate – for example, to violence and abuse.
Attacks against staff are unacceptable. I say that not just as Minister for Crime and Policing but also as someone who worked in a supermarket in South London as a teenager.
That is why we recently introduced tougher sentences for assault against those who are serving the public, reflecting the seriousness of assaults against retail workers. We also led a police recruitment drive and now have a record number of officers in England and Wales, and I have acted to reduce bureaucratic burdens placed on them.
This will free up time for officers to do the job they have trained for and are good at – common sense policing that protects communities and catches criminals.
According to the latest stats, violent crime is down by 46 per cent since 2010 and neighbourhood crime by 51 percent. But we must do more.
That is why I have supported the work of Katy Bourne, Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex, on Project Pegasus, which enables retailers to share information with the police on organised gangs shoplifting across the country.
I also want new technology such as facial recognition used widely and lawfully. Police should always seek CCTV footage of crime, run it through the databases and make an arrest where they get a face-match.
The public rightly expect these crimes to be followed up. The commitment from police leaders to always follow all reasonable lines of inquiry for all crime types, including shoplifting, is significant.
We are also rolling out hotspot patrols to combat anti-social behaviour and protect high streets. This started over the summer in ten areas and in April will be rolled out across all of England and Wales, backed by £42 million of funding.
I am working closely with the National Police Chiefs Council leads, Police and Crime Commissioners and retailers to develop urgent plans to clamp down on shoplifting.
Our message is clear: there is no such thing as ‘minor’ crime. A zero-tolerance approach is needed.