Thousands of shoplifters still walking free after being detained, Co-op warns

by The Technical Blogs


Thousands of shoplifters are walking free after being detained by undercover guards in Co-op stores, as the retailer urged action to stop criminals viewing it as a crime without consequences.

The firm said there had been some early signs of improvement since the Government stepped in to help crack down on a spike in retail crime.

But it comes after reporting the highest levels of shop crime last year with more than 335,000 cases of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour across its food stores.

Co-op said that specially trained undercover guards detained about 3,360 suspected criminals across its stores during 2023.

Earlier this year, it found police failed to attend in nearly four out of five cases where someone had been detained in its shops.

Since the government introduced its Retail Crime Action Plan, non-attendance rates have improved but police are still failing to attend in three out of five cases, Co-op said.

It means thousands of shoplifters are still walking free even after being caught by specialist security guards, which Co-op said sends the message that it is consequence-free crime.

The government’s plan, launched late last year, included a police commitment to prioritise urgently attending the scene of shoplifting incidents involving violence against a shop worker, where security guards have detained an offender or to secure evidence.

Matt Hood, Co-op’s managing director of food retail, said the issue is “critical and is not going away”, adding that repeat prolific offenders and organised criminal gangs were behind the spike in incidents.

He welcomed the government’s plan but needs to “see it in action in our stores, so that the desperate calls from frontline colleagues to the police are responded to, and criminals do start to realise there are real consequences to their actions of shoplifting in our shops”.

In February, Co-op said its partnerships with a number of police forces had removed and managed 110 prolific offenders, with a combined 30 years of custodial sentences.

It has also invested more than £200 million in recent years in staff safety, including bodyworn cameras, secure kiosks, locked doors on high-value products, and dummy or empty packaging to deter bulk theft.

However, “the reality is that every day four of our colleagues will be attacked and up to a further 116 will be seriously abused,” Mr Hood said.

The group revealed the scale of the issue in its annual report, which also showed a slump in annual profits after selling its petrol stations business to Asda.

Pre-tax profit fell by £240 million to £28 million in 2023, compared with 2022, while revenues also dipped to £11.3 billion from £11.5 billion, partly driven by slipping food sales.

Co-op said its active members – who collectively own the business and get access to offers and discounted prices – grew to more than five million at the end of 2023. Members accounted for 37% of all purchases in its food shops, the highest level for four years.

It came as the group invested £90 million across the year in lowering food prices and rolling out member-only pricing on everyday essentials.

Mr Hood said there had been a resurgence in “food to go” sales, thanks to workers returning to city-centre offices following the Covid-19 pandemic.


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