Stores urged to unite in fight against shoplifters

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The Independent Online

The Home Office is backing a blitz in the new year to reverse the growth in shoplifting, which costs the country about £750m a year. Members of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) want to sign up every town, city and suburban shopping centre in the country to combine forces in the surveillance of potential thieves.

Managers would pool information about suspected shoplifters, alert other stores if they are caught on camera and share tips on preventing crime. Closer links will also be forged with local police.

The project comes as drug addicts, stealing to feed their habits, and organised gangs, including terrorists, fuel a crime wave in high streets. Growing numbers of sales assistants and security staff are being threatened or attacked when they challenge suspected shoplifters.

Such theft is estimated to have cost stores - and customers, who pay the price for the shops' losses - £750m this year, with clothing, shoes, beauty products, alcohol, CDs and DVDs among the top targets.

Mike Schuck, assistant director at the BRC, said the most alarming trend was the numbers of attacks on staff. He said: "Violence has gone up. It is far more of a significant problem now and the majority of it is associated with trying to detain people for theft."

The BRC, whose project is backed by the Government, said there was scope for all "major" shopping centres to have anti-shoplifting partnerships. Mr Schuck said: "Intelligence picked up by 100 pairs of eyes has been invaluable to police in arresting people. It's beginning to be recognised by MI5 and the Anti-Terrorist Branch that Middle East terrorists fund themselves through retail crime."

Amid concern that organised gangs are operating across wider areas, stores will also set up regional anti-crime initiatives and meet in a national forum to share ideas. One gang, based in Middlesbrough, netted £10,000-worth of clothes in a single day's crime spree across the North-east recently. Some thieves catch cheap flights to domestic airports and steal high-value goods, such as watches and perfume, from shops in the departure lounge.

Information on "designing out" crime - removing pillars, sharp corners and dark areas from stores - will also be shared nationwide.

Hazel Blears, a Home Office minister, said: "Businesses must play a greater part in the fight against crime. They have a responsibility to help protect themselves by installing proper security measures."

The BRC said that pilfering by staff (£640m), other crime (£300m) and crime prevention schemes (£500m) brings the annual cost of high street crime to about £2.2bn.

Store chiefs are also pressing ahead with new technology to prevent fraud and theft. They include the "chipping" of goods, to make them unusable if they are taken outside the shop, and fitting tiny radio tags to the smallest of items.

In a separate Home Office move, more than 5,500 staff in corner shops, local newsagents and other convenience stores will be trained on how to make their businesses more secure.