How rise in shoplifting is affecting UK stores
Inside the extraordinary lengths county-lines style shoplifting gangs are willing to go to on Britain’s Wild West high streets
- One trader lost £100,000 worth of jewellery and cash during a distraction theft
- Another incident saw a woman flash breasts at shop owner after stealing items
Shopkeepers across Britain are suffering from an outbreak of thefts amid the cost-of-living crisis as shoplifting incidents rise by more than a quarter in a year.
Small gangs are ‘hitting’ stores in what the British Independent Retailers Association has described as ‘stealing to order’ and compared to the county lines drugs issue.
Reported retail thefts have now risen by 27 per cent across ten of the UK’s largest cities – and were up by 68 per cent in some, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said.
This week, MailOnline visited popular areas for independent shops in London, Birmingham and the North East and learned how businesses are being targeted.
One trader lost £100,000 worth of jewellery and cash during a distraction theft – while a separate incident saw a woman flash her breasts at him after stealing items.
JD Sports has been at the eye of the shoplifting storm this month after widely-shared posts on TikTok and Snapchat two weeks ago invited yobs to wear balaclavas and gloves and ‘rob JD Sports’ on Oxford Street at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon.
Other chains such as John Lewis, Waitrose Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Boots are now issuing staff bodycams and training to deter violence from aggressive thieves.
Here is what MailOnline uncovered when investigating the scourge of shoplifting:
MailOnline visited Camden Passage in Islington, one of London’s top locations for independent stores, and found the area has a major issue with shoplifting.
One trader revealed a distraction technique involving dropped coins saw him lose £100,000 worth of jewellery and cash – while in another incident, a woman stole items before flashing her breasts at him twice and claiming he had assaulted her.
Further traders noted a rise in theft by teenage girls and claimed they had been forced to have changing room stand-offs with customers they knew were stealing.
DISTRACTION TACTIC: A man places coins on steps at Camden Passage in Islington, London
ACCOMPLICE: Another man (circled) is seen walking while looking at the jewellery market stall
ACCOMPLICE MOVES IN: First man distracts the woman while the other (circled) grabs bags
WALKING AWAY: The first man (left) walks away, while the thief (right) runs off with the bag
OTHER ANGLE OF ACCOMPLICE: The man who took the bag can be seen in this reverse angle
CLOSE-UP: The man in the striped shirt, who was the one who dropped the coins on the steps
It’s one of London’s most picturesque car-free streets, filled with independent boutiques, antique shops, vintage market stalls and pleasant cafes.
But traders have claimed Camden Passage in Islington has a big shoplifting problem and some believe police inaction makes it a tempting, penalty-free crime.
Extraordinary footage captured thieves allegedly robbing over £100,000 worth of jewellery and cash after they distracted a stall owner with dropped coins.
Vintage jewellery trader Owen Weston, 53, has run his stall on the passage – dating back to 1767 – for 25 years and said he was a victim of theft twice in the space of a month.
He believes the villains watched him in the months leading up to the thefts.
Other traders said they had increased security in light of the rising thefts, including adding cameras and deciding to cease trading in cash.
One shop assistant at a jewellery store said she had noticed a rise in teenage girls stealing items from her shop.
However, workers said they had been told by police and store managers that they are not to approach suspected thieves because they could be dangerous.
WOMAN IN SECOND INCIDENT: A woman wearing her bra runs off with stolen items after falling on the floor and pretending to have been assaulted at Camden Passage in Islington
WOMAN RUNS OFF: The woman can be seen running away in her bra, with the stolen items
CLOSE-UP OF WOMAN: The woman can be seen in her bra, running off with the stolen items
As a result, employees feel there is little that can be done about missing goods.
During the first time Mr Weston was robbed on May 3, a woman was spotted climbing up the railings behind his stall around lunchtime, attempting to grab the contents from his bag hung on the awning.
When his friend and regular customer raised the alarm, the thief pulled up her top to show her breasts.
Mr Weston chased her to get back the estimated £300 worth of items from his bag, but when he caught up, she pulled up her top again.
He said she then lay on the floor and falsely accused him of assault, prompting police to enquire about that before the theft.
The veteran dealer said he had left his stall for ten seconds when he returned to find a customer alerting him to the theft.
Friend and customer Natasha Johnson said ‘somebody’s there, somebody’s there’ as she pointed to the railings behind his stall, which drop down to another pavement below.
Describing the attack between 12.45pm and 1pm, he said: ‘I look over and there’s a girl there with shoulder length dark hair, I said to her ‘what are you doing?’
‘She was trying to get down [the railings], she had obviously already been up.
‘There was a bag, it had a ring stick and there was some jewellery in there, it had been closed and it was now open and pulled around the other way.
‘I said ‘what are you doing with my bag?’ and she then rips open her blouse, and she shows me her breasts. I said to her ‘Why are you showing me your effing t**s? Just give me what you’ve taken from my bag’.
Vintage jewellery trader Owen Weston, 53, has run his stall on Camden Passage in Islington, North London, for 25 years and said he was a victim of theft twice in the space of a month
Thomas Kleibrink, 58, runs Vintage Glassware in Camden Passage and said he had the odd customer steal a card but mainly watches people stealing food from the nearby Tesco store
Traders have claimed Camden Passage in Islington has a major shoplifting problem
‘She runs off, so I say to Natasha ‘wait here’, and I run after her.’
By the time he found her at the end of the passage she had reclothed herself, he said.
He continued: ‘I reached out I grabbed her hair, because there was nothing else to grab, and as I grabbed her hair she ripped her blouse and rolled her jacket down, rolled it down her arms like she’d done 100 times before, and she laid down on the floor without hurting herself at all.
‘She started making noises like ‘oh, oh’ as if I was attacking her. I immediately let go of her hair and say just give me what you’ve got from my bag.
‘With that, an American lady came out of the restaurant and said ‘stop attacking her’, I said ‘I’m not attacking her’. She said ‘yes you are, you ripped her clothes off, leave her alone’. The woman gets up and she runs off.’
He said a shopkeeper then called the police to report that he had assaulted the woman. When officers arrived after she had run off with his bag, Mr Weston claimed they only seemed concerned at whether he had assaulted her.
His friend Ms Johnson said: ‘It’s one o’clock in the afternoon. People get assaulted, yes, but this is manipulation. I always feel now like somebody’s watching, I always feel that something is going to happen.
‘Looking at them, you become suspicious. Once they go away with the jewels they will definitely come back, they’ve planned it.
Camden Passage in Islington is one of London’s top locations for independent stores
Camden Passage in Islington dates back to 1767 and is filled with independent boutiques
‘They have to keep going, it’s their psychology, and they know they can get away with it, because they can say you have physically assaulted them [if you try to stop them].’
Just over a month later on June 17, Mr Weston left £100,000 in jewellery and cash in bags with a husband and wife who run the next door stall while he packed three cabinets of jewellery into his car.
Two people then approached the husband by asking for the location of Angel London Underground station, and the other distracted the wife by laying some money down and telling her she dropped some change.
The first man then grabbed the bags and fled.
Mr Weston said: ‘They said to the lady, ‘you’ve dropped some money’. The other one comes in and goes behind the stall, picks up all the bags, walks a bit and then runs.
‘The bags are heavy, and he disappears. I had only been gone two minutes and 40 seconds, I saw on the CCTV. Thankfully I had my car keys. I had to borrow £10 to pay for my parking space.’
He said he has lost more than a stone in weight since the incident and fears he could lose his house, adding that the money potentially earned from the items would have made up his pension.
Mr Weston, who is well-known in the Camden Passage community, said some of the men were recognised by many people running stores in the area.
The owner of Magpie Vintage on Camden Passage once had to call the police on a thief
He said he checked for video footage in multiple shops and residences, including contacting Islington Council’s CCTV department.
Mr Weston claimed police said they were only interested if he had footage of the ring-leader orchestrating the alleged theft, not the accomplices.
However, that man was reportedly wearing a baseball cap and Mr Weston believes he was sporting a fake beard too.
He said he lodged a formal complaint with the Metropolitan Police over their handling of the investigation. MailOnline has contacted the force for comment, both relating to this incident, as well as general shoplifting crimes in the area.
Meanwhile a 26-year-old shop assistant working on the passage said the thieves she was most watching out for were teenage girls taking jewellery.
The woman, who did not wish to be named, said she had seen a rise in thefts in the three months she has worked there.
One worker on Camden Passage said she was watching out for teenage girls taking jewellery
She said: ‘There has definitely been a rise in incidents, I have noticed it’s been very young people. We have recently had cameras installed because of that, just in case.
‘To me it’s just young girls, all girls. It’s not massively expensive stuff, it’s like £50 or £60 a pop. We will do a walk around and then we will realise things are missing.
‘I’m not going to confront them, I’ve been told not to. What if they became aggressive? Your life is more important.’
Thomas Kleibrink, 58, runs Vintage Glassware in the passage and said he had the odd customer steal a card but mainly watches people stealing food from the nearby Tesco supermarket.
He put it down to people being unable to afford food. Mr Kleibrink said: ‘The thing is since the cost of living, Tesco are putting up their price.
‘What’s going to happen to some people if the Co-Op can do a tin of baked beans for £1.85? Thefts has got worse since the cost of living crisis.’
Emma Aldridge, 27, is an assistant manager at a vintage shop on Camden Passage and said she once had to call the police on a thief.
Shop workers claimed they had been forced to have changing room stand-offs with customers
The Tottenham resident, who has worked at Magpie Vintage for three years, said: ‘Thankfully, touch wood, we’re not targeted as much as other shops I think because of the nature of what we sell.’
She said: ‘There was a time when a guy came in, and we had denim jackets that were branded Levis, he recognised the street value and just ran off with a bunch.
‘I did have a woman come in and it was a stand-off in the changing room where she wouldn’t leave, I was like I know you’re stealing.
‘She was just standing in the changing room, I actually called the police on that one because it was so drawn out.
‘We recorded her as she was leaving and the [police] said oh you got too close to her, you’ve got to be careful next time. For my safety, not telling me off.’
MailOnline contacted Islington Council for comment about shoplifting in the area, and it responded with a statement from Councillor John Woolf, its executive member for community safety.
Camden Passage is known for its antique shops, vintage market stalls and pleasant cafes
He said: ‘While law enforcement is ultimately the responsibility of the police, we take these reports extremely seriously and we support robust action against shoplifters.
‘We are working tirelessly to support local businesses and have already taken immediate action to address these issues.
‘Together with Angel Business Improvement District, we have provided two enforcement officers to tackle crime and support residents with any safety concerns.
‘We recognise that there is always more work to be done and we are committed to working in partnership with the police and our communities to create a safer Islington.
‘However, shoplifters will only be deterred by police on the streets. The Government must step up and properly fund an effective police presence.’
Whitley Bay in North Tyneside has also been hit by a rise in shoplifters, with one owner saying he has lost £2,500 worth of goods to theft so far this year.
Another shop owner said local businesses in the quaint town are sharing CCTV footage in private Facebook group to let each other know about local thieves.
One said they were losing £150 per month due to shoplifting and had now installed 16 cameras in their shop. Meanwhile people are said to be walking into the Greggs bakery and running out with food, even eating stolen sandwiches on the street.
Ken Mosley, 51, the general manager of Canny Clever IT Service Centres, a gaming store in Whitley Bay, claims the shop has lost £2,500 worth of goods to theft so far this year
Sandra Francisco, who owns gift shop Meander in Whitley Bay, says she is afraid to chase after thieves due to concerns for safety
A picturesque seaside town that is one of the most desirable places to live in the UK has become riddled with shoplifters who target independent businesses, local traders claim.
Whitley Bay in North Tyneside is renowned for its stunning coastal views and iconic St Mary’s lighthouse and was even dubbed the ‘best place to live in the North’ by the Sunday Times earlier this year.
Properties in the town, which is close Newcastle-upon Tyne, go for up to £1.1million and the area was even home to Wild at Heart actor Stephen Tompkinson.
The suburb is lined with quirky independent stores on Park View – but owners claim they are plagued with shoplifters who take thousands of pounds worth of stock.
Ken Mosley, 51, the general manager of Canny Clever IT Service Centres, a gaming store, claims the shop has lost £2,500 worth of goods to theft so far this year.
He said: ‘We’ve had to start taking items out of their display boxes to deter theft.
‘One of the worst incidents was in January when someone pinched a VR set worth £1,800. It was on loan to us from one of our suppliers which thankfully they were really good about.
Scott Glazebrook, 44, the owner of Hamiedog menswear, said Whitley Bay is a ‘lovely area and I would hate for it to be associated with shoplifting or theft’
Whitley Bay was dubbed the ‘best place to live in the North’ by the Sunday Times this year
‘That money could have been used to pay someone’s wage or keep the business going in a quiet post-Christmas month.
‘But we posted the footage on Facebook and the local community were so outraged they started sending us his name and even his address and phone number.
‘In total, we’ve lost around £2,500 from theft this year. It’s got worse in the last six months since the cost of living started increasing.
‘Whitley Bay is a really nice area. We used to have a shop in North Shields which is a bit more rough and we had a few thieves there but now they travel to steal things.
‘We use the local Facebook group to track people down but we also have a group with other IT stores. In this industry, it isn’t uncommon for people to travel to different stores to steal the gear.’
Bizarrely, one of the shoplifters even called the store after they posted the CCTV on Facebook, asking for it to be taken down.
Mr Mosley added: ‘I’m not often speechless but when he rang up to tell me that it wasn’t him I didn’t know what to say.
CCTV images from Ms Francisco’s store in Whitley Bay shows two apparent shoplifters
Local businesses in Whitley Bay share CCTV images with others in a bid to identify thieves
‘He was getting recognised from the post, apparently. But he was since sentenced to 42 weeks in prison for that and petty theft at another store.
‘It isn’t just about the money, your faith in humanity is being eroded because of it.’
Sandra Francisco, who owns gift shop Meander, says she is afraid to chase after thieves due to concerns for safety.
The 55-year-old said: ‘We’ve experienced shoplifting a few times. We don’t go after them as you never know if they have knives. I owned a shop years ago and I was hit in the face while chasing after thieves, but I wouldn’t do that now.
‘A couple stole around £180 worth of goods once, they actually came back on Saturday and stole from us again. They were in the store for a very long time. When we realised things were missing and checked the CCTV it was sickening to watch.
‘Times are hard enough with the cost of living crisis. Our costs have gone up and this doesn’t help. We used to have police on the streets and checking in with us but with the cut backs that doesn’t happen now.
‘The police station around the corner has shut. They take cushions, throws, candles, diffusers. We’ve handed the CCTV in but nothing ever happens. A lot of the shop owners are in a private Facebook group and we warn each other of shop lifters.
‘We’ll post pictures from the footage and we can keep an eye out for them. I’m aware of the TikToks on Oxford Street. The fact that they feel so emboldened to post that on social media says a lot. They think they can get away with it.’
The coastal resort of Whitley Bay in North Tyneside is renowned for its stunning coastal views
One local in Whitley Bay, who owns News Force, claims he loses £150 per month due to shoplifting and has been forced to install 16 cameras in the shop
Ms Francisco was referring to how police clashed with youths on Oxford Street in London amid reports of a ‘mass looting stunt’.
Shoppers had been warned to avoid the London shopping district after posts on TikTok told of plans for a large shoplifting operation which encouraged teens to wear balaclavas in a bid to ‘rob JD Sports’.
In Whitley Bay, CCTV images from Ms Francisco’s store show two apparent shoplifters, one donning a high-vis jacket and the other has her hair slicked back into a bun, walking around the store before grabbing items and putting them in their bags.
Neither of them have been caught or charged.
One local, who owns News Force, claims he loses £150 per month due to shoplifting and has been forced to install 16 cameras in the shop.
The businessman asked not to be named in fear of retribution from the thugs. He said: ‘Over the last 12 -18 months we’ve seen a reasonably large surge of shoplifting.
‘We’ve placed 16 cameras in the shop and we lose around £150 per month.
‘They mainly go for alcohol – at the end of the day if they’re alcoholics and that’s what they need they’ll take it so they don’t need to pay for it.’
He said he had seen thieves walk into the Greggs bakery before ‘picking up loads of stuff and running off’, adding: ‘Some even eat their stolen sandwiches on the street.’
The man also said a local chain store nearby had been forced to shut one of their doors and hire security guards.
Properties in Whitley Bay, which is close Newcastle-upon Tyne, go for up to £1.1million
He added: ‘The biggest issue is that there’s no deterrence. We’ve handed CCTV into the police and nothing is ever done. There’s no consequences and businesses are penalised.
‘I saw the TikToks of people going to Oxford Street to steal. It normalises this behaviour.’
Scott Glazebrook, 44, the owner of Hamiedog menswear, said: ‘I’ve only experienced one shoplifter since 2016 and it was awful so I really feel angry for the people who experience it a lot.
‘I’m lucky that a lot of my items aren’t something you can sell on down the pub so we aren’t targeted as much. There used to be a police officer that walked around and was on the street but you don’t get that anymore.
‘Shoplifting does hit local businesses harder because sometimes things are limited edition and when they are gone, they’re gone.
‘To a shoplifter, an item worth £15 to £20 may not be that much but for us that can be the difference between a good day and a bad day.
‘Some days you don’t sell anything and that loss can be difficult. Whitley Bay is a lovely area and I would hate for it to be associated with shoplifting or theft.
The police office in Whitley Bay which replaced a proper station in the town has now also shut
‘We have a great community here and all of the store owners get along. There aren’t many places where you get so many independent shops anymore.’
MailOnline contacted North Tyneside Council for comment, which directed enquiries to Northumbria Police.
A Northumbria Police spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We understand the serious impact that shoplifting can have on businesses and will always look to take action against offenders.
‘Officers work closely with local businesses to help put preventative measures in place and we have a dedicated neighbourhood team which patrols the Whitley Bay area and liaises with shop owners.
‘We will continue to work hand-in-hand with businesses to tackle this type of offending.
‘We would always encourage victims of crime to report incidents to us as this helps us to provide a quicker and more effective response.
‘In a non-emergency, this can be done via the ‘Tell us Something’ page on our website or by calling 101. If a crime is in progress, always call 999.’
Independent stores in Birmingham are also suffering from a rise in shoplifting, with owners telling MailOnline one even took a tree worth £100 on his bicycle.
We visited the pleasant suburbs of King’s Heath and Stirchley and found local businessmen claimed people ‘just come along and help themselves’.
Markit Phull, 76, who owns Phull Watch Co in Stirchley, said that just last week someone cut his shutters and tried to break in – but failed.
He has also been held at gunpoint in the last ten years. Mr Phull said: ‘We have a one in one out system with a lock. Last week we had a robbery, well he tried. We’ve had one before where he came in with a gun and he was eventually caught.
‘He got a few years for that but that was 10 or 12 years ago. The one recently went to the front shutter and cut the wire in there to try and lift it up.
Staff at the greengrocers J & H Ward in Stirchley, Birmingham, said they suffered a lot of shoplifting. Pictured are owner John Ward (left) and worker Connor Fowler (right), with his dog
Markit Phull, 76, who owns Phull Watch Co in Stirchley, Birmingham, said that just last week someone cut his shutters and tried to break in – but failed
‘The wire he cut must have tripped something because he couldn’t lift it up. They weren’t the most experienced people. We’ve had the door lock on here about 20 years or so. I had a bolt put into the shutter since last week.’
Mr Phull added that a man across the road was building a block of flats and had some copper cable stolen which was worth £84,000.
Meanwhile a woman who owned a dessert shop on Stirchley high street said she had seen cars being stolen along the road worries her food stock on the front is at risk.
The woman, who wished to remain unnamed, said: ‘We saw a car get stolen and drive away just last week. They sped off down the road. We had a woman staring at our car waiting to get in while it was parked out the front.
‘We had to move it. You do worry about the theft, they can take the crisps out of the front and walk off with them and you wouldn’t know.
‘I know a few people have had trouble. I’ve only been here four months but I’ve seen the corner shop owners next door chase a few people down.’
Another shop keeper, who didn’t want to be named because they ran a ‘sensitive’ business, said that she has had to install plastic screens around stock to prevent thefts.
Richard Kemp, 51, who works at Poundbazaar Plus in Kings Heath, Birmingham, said that he had a spate of thefts when the shop opened two years ago
CCTV cameras to deter thieves at the greengrocers J & H Ward in Stirchley, Birmingham
She said: ‘The screens went up during Covid but we realised that they would be good for keeping stock out of reach. We have a lot of high-price goods so we want to try and keep them as clear as possible.
‘We’ve had our fair share of shop lifting in the past, but it gets harder now as our shop is so small. We can see everything that goes in. We’ve had kids aged about 12 come in and try and steal from us. But it’s fairly quiet.’
Greengrocers J & H Ward said they have a lot of shoplifting, primarily on a daily basis and said people were targeting them because of their small size.
Worker Connor Fowler, 26, said he often had shoplifters and once he caught a man stealing a tree on a bike.
He added: ‘We’ve got pictures of people coming in and stealing. A lot of the plants go missing more than anything. We get a lot of onions go missing.
‘The ones that do it inside are the sneaky ones. They’ll buy £25 worth of gear and then on the way out they’ll throw an extra couple of things in.
‘We’re a community shop, we’ve been here nearly 60 years. People have been coming here that long so you can imagine that they’ve probably been doing that around that long. It’s just habit. You can’t really stop them.
Video screens showing CCTV cameras at greengrocers J & H Ward in Stirchley, Birmingham
King’s Heath in Birmingham is one of the city’s most well-known areas for independent shops
‘I’ve got pics on my phone of a guy who stole a £100 tree. A lot of people around here just do it. A lot of time they think it’s just old people who work here. I saw him pull up on his bike and make off with this tree. I confronted him a bit later on.’
Mr Fowler added that he knows the security guard in the Morrisons supermarket who is ‘constantly chasing people off’, adding: ‘He got threatened with a knife the other day.’
The greengrocers owner John Ward said: ‘People just come along and help themselves. They do it all the time. I’ve been here 50 years and you can’t stop them.
‘It’s mainly stuff that’s outside that gets taken. It’s not every day but it’s most days. You can see them on the cameras. They’ve been in here trying to sell supermarket meat after they’ve been stealing in the big chains.’
MailOnline also visited Kings Heath, a suburb in south Birmingham, and spoke to an owner of a garden centre who said she had had items closest to the road stolen.
The woman said: ‘We sell mainly plants so they aren’t the most stolen thing. But whenever we have rugs or anything at the front they can get gradually stolen.
‘We had one guy steal these rug mats over four days. He stole a pile and just kept coming back and stealing more. We don’t tend to get that many, but we’ve had our fair share. They’ve stolen a mirror worth £200 before, as well as other mirrors.’
J & H Ward in Stirchley, Birmingham, said it was mostly goods outside the shop that were taken
Richard Kemp, 51, who works at Poundbazaar Plus in Kings Heath, said that he had a spate of thefts when the shop opened two years ago.
He said the owners had a WhatsApp chat where thieves were named and shamed.
Mr Kemp added: ‘We got a few when we first open. We do get some. They were just coming in and trying their luck. I try and give respect to people. I’ve had a bottle thrown at me before.
‘I treat them with respect and they tell their mates and they often stay away. I believe that if you steal from the big corporates, the shop workers don’t really care.
‘We have a sister shop in Northfield and there’s a Heron food shop next door. A guy came in and stole four bags throughout the day but no one could stop him.
‘When we first opened, some family stole a whole trolley full of goods. They even walked past us with it like an hour later. They don’t care. They get a record and a picture and then that’s it.
‘We’ve got radios to street wardens and we all have a WhatsApp group and we take photos of shoplifters for it. We can spread their faces around to warn other shops.’
MailOnline contacted Birmingham City Council for comment, which directed enquiries to West Midlands Police. MailOnline also contacted the force for comment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING: Adam Dutton, Pol Allingham and Alethea Farline
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