Shoplifting and staff theft adds up to £2bn

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The cost of high street crime, including shoplifting and pilfering by staff, has topped £2bn - and record numbers of sales assistants are being assaulted when they challenge suspected thieves.

Increasing theft from stores is fuelling a booming illegal trade in electrical goods, CDs and DVDs, games consoles, computer equipment, jewellery and cosmetics, with an estimated five million people offered stolen goods in the past year.

The British Retail Consortium has disclosed that crime cost shopkeepers more than £2bn last year, an increase of 9 per cent on the past 12 months.

It estimated that items worth £589m were stolen by the public in 2004, a rise of 44 per cent, attributing much of the crime spree to drug addicts stealing to fund their habits. Losses blamed on staff leapt by 77 per cent to £498m.

The retail sector spent another £710m on anti-shoplifting initiatives, bringing the total cost of crime to the high street to £2.13bn.

The consortium also said that attacks on staff by customers rose by 14 per cent, while there was a 35 per cent increase in reports of verbal abuse of staff.