Shops' pounds 2bn crime bill slices 23% off profits: Employees responsible for quarter of thefts from UK stores, survey reveals. Terry Kirby reports

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The Independent Online
EMPLOYEES are responsible for more than a quarter of thefts from shops and stores in the United Kingdom, according to a report published yesterday. In total, the retail trade faced a bill of more than pounds 2bn for crimes committed against them in 1992-93.

The report, Retail Crime Costs, commissioned by the British Retail Consortium, says profits for the industry would have been 23 per cent higher were it not for crime.

Although the industry already spends more than pounds 370m annually on crime prevention and security measures, the BRC warned yesterday that costs would continue to rise if shops did not learn the lessons of the survey.

James May, director-general of the consortium, said it was impossible to say how much the cost of crime contributed to the price of individual items, but it was clear the pounds 2bn bill would, in some fashion, be borne by the consumer.

He said it was the responsibility of the industry to tackle the issue. 'Although there is traditionally a great deal of competition, we have to show a willingness to co-operate together on anti-crime initiatives.'

It was important for the industry to introduce security measures sufficient to stop shopping centres being dominated by shop fronts covered with metal grilles, which made them inhospitable places, Mr May said.

The report is based on a survey of 54,000 companies, representing one-tenth of all shops and stores in the United Kingdom and 44 per cent of total sales. It is the largest and most comprehensive survey of its type conducted.

Only pounds 560m of the pounds 2bn figure is directly attributable to criminal incidents, although a further pounds 1,060m was judged to have been lost as a result of criminal activities.

The results show that crimes by customers - mainly shoplifting - account for about 1.5 million of the total of 2.1 million crimes. But the total cost of pounds 516m due to recorded and estimated crimes by customers is less than the pounds 554m value put on thefts by employees, even though the number of incidents was only 31,000.

The majority of shoplifting incidents go unnoticed. Only about one-fifth of the total value is recorded at the time as being the result of theft; the remainder comes to light during stocktaking.

Just over 60 per cent of suspects apprehended are referred to the police although there are considerable variations: furniture, textile, carpet and footware retailers report all suspects, but the grocery trade only reports 42 per cent.

Mr May said: 'If every shoplifter was handed over to the police, the criminal justice system would grind to a halt.'

But he added that serious and persistent shoplifters should be dealt with more harshly by the courts and he said there should be more effective cautioning for lesser offenders.

In 1992-93, burglaries cost a total of pounds 331m, robberies pounds 24.2m, terrorism pounds 52.8m and fraud pounds 21.7m.

Although 14,300 staff were subjected to violence, a further 106,000 threatened with violence and almost 300,000 verbally abused, the risk of actual physical violence is eight attacks per 1,000.

The survey showed that for every 10 retail premises, there were six burglaries - eight times greater than the burglary risk to the average household; grocery shops had the highest risk of burglary.

Six out of every 100 premises experienced a robbery, compared with an average risk of personal robbery of less than 1 in 100. Off-licences had the highest risk of robbery.

The total loss as a result of ram raiding was pounds 18m during the year, mainly due to the cost of repairs rather than loss of the stock. The average loss of stock after ram raids was pounds 1,254, compared to pounds 683 for the average burglary. But the risk of being ram raided was only 1 in 100.

(Graph omitted)