Light-fingered 'shoppers' stealing one item a minute

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The Independent Online

The number of shoplifting incidents has risen by more than a third in the past year, costing retailers more than £1bn and leading to higher prices for customers.

According to the British Retail Consortium's annual crime survey there were 498,405 thefts – almost one every minute – during 2009, with the number of thefts per 100 outlets rising from 2,914 in 2008 to 3,902 last year.

Incidents of violence and verbal abuse against shop staff doubled, with at least 22,000 workers being targeted by customers. Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said that store crime was not treated seriously enough. "We need tougher sentencing and more consistent use of fixed penalty notices between police forces," he said.

The figures were revealed in a BRC survey of 60 major stores, which together employ 1.1 million staff and account for almost half the goods sold in British shops. Researchers found that customer thefts accounted for the biggest share of all retail crime, with 94 per cent of incidents involving stealing by customers. But the value stolen in each shoplifting incident declined to £45 per theft as retailers improved the protection on high-value items.

The survey found that violence and abuse against staff had doubled, with 20 in every 1,000 staff suffering an attack last year. Robberies almost doubled, with a typical high street comprising 30 shops experiencing three robberies in a year. Burglaries increased by nearly a third with 21 incidents per 100 outlets, reversing a long-term trend.

Mr Robertson said: "The increase in retail crime during the recession can't be justified as a move from 'greed' to 'need'. Whatever the motivation, shoplifting is never victimless or acceptable. The cash costs are met by honest customers who end up paying more and the human costs by shop staff who intervene."