Police to target ‘rampant rise in retail crime’ and violence

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A specialist police team known as Project Pegasus is to target organised crime gangs who are masters in shoplifting, as violence against shopworkers soars across the UK.

The initiative, known as Pegasus, comes as shoplifting offences recorded by police in England and Wales rose by 25 per cent in the past year, according to data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Some 365,164 such offences were recorded in the year to June 2023, up a quarter on the previous 12 months.

Shoplifting is the main trigger for violence and abuse suffered by retail workers, says shop workers’ union, Usdaw. Photograph: iStock

Shoplifting is the main trigger for violence and abuse suffered by retail workers, says shop workers’ union, Usdaw. Results of its interim survey show that in 60 per cent of incidents, shoplifting was a flashpoint for violence or abuse.

Out of 3,082 shop workers it surveyed, 65 per cent had been verbally abused and 43 per cent had been threatened. One in six (17 per cent) of shopworkers had been assaulted during their career and 5 per cent had been assaulted this year.

One anonymous retail worker told Usdaw how they were “pushed and swung at” when they challenged a thief: “A shoplifter punched the window next to me and said it would be my face next time.”

Paul Gerrard, public affairs director of the Co-op, which is helping to fund Pegasus, said: “The Co-op has long called for greater police prioritisation so they tackle the rampant rise in retail crime especially those involving violence or prolific offenders; this is now what happens at present as our colleagues see every day.”

The police have also reaffirmed a pledge to follow up on evidence, such as CCTV or video captured via body worn cameras, which could reasonably lead to catching a perpetrator.

Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said: “I want a new zero-tolerance approach to tackling shoplifting. It is a blight on our highstreets and communities and puts the livelihoods of traders at risk.

"That’s why we’re taking action and bringing together government, policing and business to commit to smarter, more joined up working when it comes to retail crime, which will help to drive down criminal behaviour and rebuild public confidence in the police response when it does occur.”

Police action plan to tackle shoplifting here