Organised gangs shoplifting stores on Tube stops as part of getaway network as they 'steal items to order'

21 September 2023, 10:02

Thieves are targeting shops on the Tube network as part of a shoplifting epidemic
Thieves are targeting shops on the Tube network as part of a shoplifting epidemic. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Fears of organised gangs engaging in professional shoplifting have been raised as they "steal to order".

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John Lewis's head of security Lucy Brown has warned the groups target stores on Tube routes and the road network, allowing them to get around easier as they rampage shop to shop, threatening workers with violence.

Previously, the store has described shoplifting as an "epidemic".

Brown, who is the partnership's director of security for John Lewis and Waitrose, said: "Some shops are targeted every day, others several times a day. And we're fortunate because we're not the worst hit.

"We've seen a real increase post-Covid. We don't believe it's linked to the cost of living. You have people living chaotic lives with substance abuse who are stealing to fund their habits.

John Lewis has been targeted by professional shoplifters
John Lewis has been targeted by professional shoplifters. Picture: Alamy

"Another major problem - which is new - are organised criminal gangs. They spend as much time shoplifting as we do on our normal jobs. They will target Tube routes, road networks and steal to order.

"There have been gangs operating across North London going from shop to shop and threatening teams with violence."

She told the Mail thieves target high value items that are easy to carry and get rid of, such as alcohol, portable technology and fragrances.

Toothbrushes are also targeted.

Meanwhile, staff at the shops have been punched. This echoes statements from other supermarket executives, with Iceland boss Richard Walker telling LBC his staff have been attacked with hypodermic needles.

Read more: Supermarket staff threatened with hypodermic needles as Iceland boss warns shoplifting 'becoming unpunishable'

Shoplift rampages are becoming an "epidemic"
Shoplift rampages are becoming an "epidemic". Picture: Handout

Some staff at John Lewis are specifically trained to detain shoplifters and wait for the police to arrive, while she has found that "attentive customer service" can deter thieves.

"Impulsive thieves will be put off, while people from organised gangs don't want to be seen and recognised," Brown explained.

Read more: Independent shops in Liverpool forced to create their own security network to combat shoplifters in the city

"We also have a number of technological solutions including really good CCTV and body-worn cameras. Those are proven to deescalate unpleasant situations and also record footage and audio that we can pass on to the police."

But she said police are not always responding at the rate shops would like.

John Lewis loses about £12 million a year to thefts as chairwoman Sharon White described the problem as an "epidemic".

Thieves target stores near Tube stops as part of a shoplifting network
Thieves target stores near Tube stops as part of a shoplifting network. Picture: Alamy

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) also said violence and abuse against staff has risen from 450 incidents a day in 2019/20 to more than 850 last year.

High street stores are even being forced to lock everyday items away securely due to threats of widespread shoplifting.

Shops are bringing in security guards, electronic barriers for self service checkouts and facial recognition systems to stop theft.

Ten retailers are taking part "Project Pegasus" - a system where they pay police to scan shoplifters' faces through the Police National Database, which uses facial recognition technology.

This could help forces crack down on shoplifting gangs.

Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and the Co-op are among those taking part in the £600,000 scheme they will help fund.