Crimewave hitting Scots high streets as shoplifting cases soar by 21%

20/09/2023

THE SCALE of the crimewave hitting Scottish high streets has been laid bare today with new crime stats revealing a 21% increase in shoplifting over the past year.

There were 30,202 thefts in stores in the year to June, up by a fifth on the 24,877 cases the year before. Co-op, the grocery store, said that it had noticed a 35% year-on-year increase in shoplifting and anti-social behaviour.

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The shock figures come as police in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire embark on a new pilot scheme where crimes with “no associated threat, risk, harm or vulnerability” and no lines of inquiry will not be investigated.

Tracy Gilbert, regional secretary for the trade union Usdaw Scotland, said: “This 21% increase in shoplifting is very concerning for our members in retail. 

“Shoplifting is not a victimless crime, theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers.

“Having to deal with repeated and persistent shoplifters can cause issues beyond the theft itself like anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers.”

Shoplifting has become a major concern in recent months during the cost of living crisis and with TikTok videos giving advice on how to steal from stores going viral.

Russell Borthwick, chief executive at Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, has urged police and the Scottish Government to work together and prioritise the issue.

“A huge amount of public and private sector money is going into efforts to regenerate our high streets and make them attractive places to live, work and visit, he said.

“Creating a safe and welcoming environment is of paramount importance to all of this, so for local police to say that it potentially will no longer investigate certain crimes in the North-east sets a worrying precedent.

“Businesses are paying record levels of tax and expect, as a minimum, for the law to be upheld in return. The Scottish Government needs to ensure that sufficient funding is in place to allow that basic ask to be met.”

Dame Sharon White, the chairwoman of John Lewis, said last month that “crime groups” were driving a rise in shoplifting, rather than the cost of living crisis, and that people were stealing to order.

“I was in our Glasgow store at the end of June and I saw a gang of teenage boys and I instinctively started following them around,” she told the Times. 

“They were deterred. The same gang then went to our John Lewis Edinburgh store the next day and stole from our beauty department.”

The total number of crimes recorded by Police Scotland also increased by 2% in the year to June, to 292,702 from 285,974 the previous year.

The most common cases were “crimes of dishonesty” which increased by 7%, and include shoplifting (up by 21%), fraud (up by 3%) and housebreaking (up by 1%).

The data, published by the Scottish Government, does show that while shoplifting has spiked in the past year, it is down by 10% on the 2019 pre-pandemic figures.

Pauline McNeill, the Scottish Labour justice spokeswoman, said there should be “alarm bells ringing” in response to the annual crime statistics. 

She added: “For years the SNP has allowed our police force to become under-resourced, understaffed and overworked and it is our communities who pay the price.”

Angela Constance, the justice secretary, said the figures were at “one of the lowest levels” since 1974, despite the increase in the previous 12 months.

She added: “These continued low levels of crime are due to the efforts across policing, justice and community safety partners to deliver safer communities and our investment in the justice system.

“With recorded crime remaining at one of the lowest levels seen since 1974, the latest figures show reductions in crimes such as violence, sexual crimes and damage and reckless behaviour.”

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