John Lewis boss Dame Sharon White calls for clampdown on gangs

John Lewis boss Dame Sharon White calls for clampdown on shoplifting gangs with tougher legislation as retail thefts skyrocket

  •  Dame Sharon White urged the government to bring in tougher legislation 

Chairperson of John Lewis and Waitrose Dame Sharon White has called on the government to introduce legislation that will clamp down on shoplifting gangs who have been stealing and looting retailers this year. 

Britain’s high streets have endured a scourge of shoplifting targeted by county lines-style gangs stealing items to order as thefts rise by more than a quarter in a year. 

The trend has been spurred on in part by antics of teenage TikTok thugs who have used the platform to organise large displays of anti-social behavior in busy shopping areas like London’s Oxford Street and Manchester city centre. 

Last week, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that 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. 

Speaking on Good Morning Britain today, Dame White suggested that in order to combat the rise in anti-social behaviour and criminality across England, the government could look to introduce tough new legislation to deter people. 

LONDON: Police officers detain a person as disruptors target shops during a shoplifting spree flash mob on Oxford Street

She explained: ‘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. 

READ MORE: Oxford Street ‘disrupters’ are arrested following day of clashes between youths and police over fears of TikTok-inspired looting

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

‘The interesting thing about Scotland is the police were there. 

‘The legislation is different in Scotland so if you’re a shop worker and you’re abused and attacked there’s a specific law that means it’s an offense. Legislation could do more and of course the police are stretched but its not a victimless crime.’ 

Under Scotland’s Protection of Worker’s bill it is an offence to assault, threatening, abuse, obstruct or hinder a retail worker engaged in retail work. 

It was brought in following the coronavirus pandemic after a reported 450% rise in violence towards retail staff. 

According to Dame White, measures like this would make a tangible difference to the safety and longevity of Britain’s high street. 

Dame Sharon White told Good Morning Britain the government should introduce tougher legislation 

MANCHESTER: Police officers were pelted with eggs and milkshakes by teenagers who were causing chaos in Manchester City Centre last month 

MANCHESTER: The disruption saw eggs and milkshakes being pelted at police officers 

She continued: ‘This week I liked that the Home Secretary Suella Braverman said ‘every crime matters’. 

READ MORE: Teenagers egg police, halt trams and force shopkeepers to barricade their stores as end-of-school celebrations turn into mini-riot

‘I think there is a growing recognition that these aren’t trivial crimes, because those costs, if you’re suffering theft, those costs go back to the customers.

‘I think if the legislation we had in Scotland where it is an offense to abuse retail workers it would be a massive plus.

‘I think it makes a massive difference knowing your local copper will be there and take it seriously.’

In a bid to increase police presence in their stores Waitrose is offering on-duty officers free hot drinks and discounted food. 

They hope that just having a police car parked outside may be enough to deter would-be thieves.

The BRC has said incidents of violence and abuse against retail staff have nearly doubled from more than 450 per day in 2019/2020 to more than 850 last year – with crimes including racial or sexual abuse, assault and threats with weapons. 

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.

LONDON: Large groups of young people were seen running away from police amid the clashes on Oxford Street

LONDON: Police officers try to stop youths as they run out of a McDonald’s restaurant on Oxford Street

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, told MailOnline: ‘This year we have seen a significant increase in retail crime.

READ MORE Waitrose offers free coffees to on-duty police officers in bid to deter thieves – as long as they bring a re-useable cup

‘In the past, shop theft has been dominated by people with chaotic lives and driven by a drug dependency. However, there now seems to be a more organised approach with people stealing to order.

Large supermarkets are using security tags on products like meat and cheese, or displaying empty jars of coffee.

‘One of our members recently reported an incident when a gang, outside of the area, targeted a few shops and moved on. All very quick, organised, professional, and choosing a variety of small businesses and a range of products.

‘Other members have made similar comments as they know the local problem criminals, but new faces are now committing the crime.’

Mr Goodacre also told The Times the new wave of organised crime is ‘not dissimilar to the county line issue for drugs’, adding: ‘For the small retailers this level of crime can remove all their profits. Many have invested in CCTV but security guards are out of the question.

In the 12 months to March, police recorded 339,206 cases of shoplifting – but the BRC estimated the true figure was eight million, costing shops nearly £1billion across the year.

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