Supermarket staff are facing an increasing amount of abuse from shoplifters attempting to steal entire sections of shops, as bosses call on the police to take greater action.
Paul Gerrard, director of public affairs at the Co-op, claimed that thiefs were regularly entering his stores and attempting to take large quantities of meat, spirits and other high-valued items.
Mr Gerrard criticised the police response to these cases, claiming it facilitated for the increased numbers of shoplifters seen in recent times, after findings revealed they did not respond to 76% of serious retail crimes reported.
The Co-op boss also said colleagues would be subject to abuse if they attempted to stop these criminals, with more than 100 staff members being subject to a hate crime or threatened with a syringe, knife or bottle every day.
Research published by the Retail Trust today found that almost half of shop workers surveyed feel unsafe at work.
Paul Gerrard, director of public affairs at the Co-op, claimed that thiefs were regularly entering his stores and attempting to take large quantities of meat, spirits and other high-valued items
A Freedom of Information request by the Co-op found that the police did not respond to 76 per cent of serious retail crimes reported
He told the BBC Radio Four Today Program: ‘My colleagues would say they are not seeing individuals coming in to steal a loaf of bread and a pint of milk to feed themselves. What they are seeing is prolific offenders and they are seeing individuals and gangs coming in to take the entire meat section, the entire spirit section, the entire household cleaning section.
‘Those kind of individuals will stop at nothing and therefore if my colleagues get in the way, they will be subject to abuse.
‘We have seen a 43% rise in crime in our stores during the course of this year, a 39% increase in abuse and 35% increase in violence.
‘Every day in the 2,500 co-op stores across the country, a hundred odd of my colleagues will be seriously abused.
‘It’s often hate crime. Its misogynistic, its racist, its homephobic and very often that will escalate into violence. And that can be syringes, knifes or bottles.’
The Retail Trust’s findings showed about two-thirds of respondents from 200 companies such as Tesco, H&M and the Co-op said confronting a shoplifter had caused abuse, which might include being shouted at, spat on, threatened or hit.
Bosses at Sainsbury’s, Boots, M&S and Aldi are among dozens of firms to have signed a letter to the goverment calling for assaults on staff to be better recorded.
Wholesalers Nisa has also urged the government not to forget about independent retailers in its clampdown of shoplifting.
Lidl announced on Wednesday it had spent £2m on bodycam equipment for its shopworkers and security personnel, becoming the first supermarket in England to provide its staff with the kit as standard.
In October, the likes of John Lewis, the Co-op, and Primark collectively pledged more than £840,000 to help kickstart a government initiative to reduce retail crime numbers.
The initiative, called Pegasus, hopes to improve how retailers share intelligence with police.
Despite the actions, a Freedom of Information request by the Co-op found that the police did not respond to 76 per cent of serious retail crimes reported.
Wholesalers Nisa has also urged the government not to forget about independent retailers in its clampdown of shoplifting
A new map created by MailOnline shows the 10 worst affected areas for shoplifting across the country
Mr Gerrard said: ‘I’m afraid they feel they can get away with it. Most acquisitive crime is risk and reward and at present, the police response has been poor.
‘Day-to-day, even on the 3000 occasions that our specialist security teams intervene and detain the offender and have them in our custody and wait for the police to complete that citizen arrest.
‘In 76% of cases, the police don’t turn up and we let that individual go.
‘We very much welcome the [Government] retail action plan. We think it does the right thing. It looks to tackle violence and persistent offenders.
‘What I would say is there is a long way to go. There are some forces – Essex, Sussex, Nottinghamshire – who really takes this seriously and have proactively worked with us and have had over 100 offenders sanctioned.
‘We need other police forces to do the same thing, because at the minute shop workers, shops and the communities they serve are not being protected.
‘We very much welcome the police posting their action plan a few weeks ago. We need to see those words turned into action.’
According to the Office for National Statistics, shoplifting had increased by 25% in the last year, as the British Retail Consortium declared that the industry was losing £1bn a year from theft.
This comes in conjunction with the prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages rising by 12.2% in the year to September 2023, according to the latest Consumer Prices Index.
In March, prices rose by 19.9% – the highest annual rate seen for over 45 years.
This was down from 13.6% in August and a recent high of 19.2% in March 2023, which was the highest annual rate seen for over 45 years.