The annual cost of retail crime in the UK has soared to more than £3bn, including a near-£400m bill for the criminal justice system, new research has shown.
The report was commissioned by security specialist Checkpoint Systems and is backed by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
It analysed the last full set of available data, for 2002-03, and discovered that shoplifting and fraud were costing Britain £3.442bn a year.
That includes £63m spent on arresting shoplifters, £194m on trials, £170m lost to Customs and Excise, mainly though missing VAT payments, and £186m on store closure or disruption. The actual value of goods stolen was £1.71bn.
Report author Professor Joshua Bamfield, who writes the European Retail Theft Barometer, said the findings were "bleak". He also warned that the problem was intensifying and the annual cost growing.
"Shoplifting will probably decline a bit, but internal fraud [theft by staff] has been on the increase for some time now and retailers are only just getting to grips with it," he said. "We expect [the annual overall cost] to continue to grow."
Professor Bamfield also argued that assaults and threats by criminals towards staff represented a growing, and costly, problem for retailers.
He said the level of violence was growing "year on year", adding: "We think of working in a shop as a nice middle-class activity where the greatest danger is getting bored. But working in a shop is one of the most dangerous activities in terms of assault, comparable to working on a building site."
Professor Bamfield called on the Government and retailers to tackle the issue, both through policy decisions such as tougher sentences for shop- lifters, and increased security and technology. "It's not enough to just spend a lot of money - it's an ongoing activity. It's a worrying time for the retail industry, and people who have not yet worked out what they are going to do about it will be stuck in the mire."
The BRC is lobbying the Government to put retail crime higher up the political agenda.
Director-general Kevin Haw- kins welcomed the Checkpoint Systems report, commenting that it highlighted the "deep scar" left on society by shop crime.
"In recent years, the retail sector has been forced into double investment in crime prevention to combat a number of growing threats, and these significant costs are often passed on to all sectors of society," he said.
The report comes at a worrying time for the retail sector, which is already struggling with a downturn as consumers start to curb their spending.
COSTS OF CRIME
Sentencing £125m (minus fines)
VAT and excise £170m duty losses
Security staff £960m and anti-theft equipment
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