Customers risk ‘getting hurt’ if they tackle shoplifters, warns Tesco boss in stand against calls for citizen's arrests

4 October 2023, 21:39 | Updated: 5 October 2023, 00:26

Undercover officers swoop in on 'thieves' in Waltham Abbey

By Emma Soteriou

Members of the public are at risk of "getting hurt" if they attempt to tackle shoplifters, Tesco boss Ken Murphy has said after the policing minister called for customers to make citizen’s arrests.

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Chris Philp urged members of the public to step in when they see thieves shoplifting by making citizen’s arrests.

He also called on retailers to instruct their security guards to intervene when it is safe to do so.

But Tesco chief Ken Murphy pushed back against the idea, saying his staff were trained to avoid getting into harm's way.

He said that while he would "applaud the sentiment" of Mr Philp, he did not want either customers or staff to put themselves in danger.

"We don't want anyone getting hurt is the short answer," Mr Murphy said.

He instead called on police and other authorities to take crimes like shoplifting and staff abuse more seriously.

Ken Murphy
Ken Murphy. Picture: Alamy

Shadow policing minister Alex Norris also hit out at Mr Philp’s comments, arguing that he was “inviting more violence against shop workers”.

Speaking at a fringe event hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank at the Tory Party conference, Mr Philp said: “The wider public do have the power of citizen’s arrest and, where it’s safe to do so, I would encourage that to be used because if you do just let people walk in, take stuff and walk out without proper challenge, including potentially a physical challenge, then again it will just escalate.

“While I want the faster and better police response, the police can’t be everywhere all the time.”

But Mr Norris responded saying: “Under this Tory government shop theft has hit epidemic levels and violence against shop workers has risen to a disturbing 850 incidents every single day.

“With 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police on the beat and in our town centres, the Tories are totally failing to enforce the law or keep our town centres safe.

“Rather than offering serious suggestions to get police back on the beat, the minister is inviting even more violence against shop workers by calling for citizen’s arrests, while making pie-in-the-sky promises about databases when the Tories have still failed to upgrade the police national computer which is 50 years old.

“The Tories are just making it up as they go along but communities are paying the price.”

Read more: Legislation won't solve shoplifting crisis without tougher action from cops, former policing minister tells LBC

Read more: Police to use 'game-changing' facial recognition tech to check thieves against passport databases

Mr Philp urged the 'wider public' to make use of the power of citizen's arrest.
Mr Philp urged the 'wider public' to make use of the power of citizen's arrest. Picture: Alamy

It comes after video footage emerged of a group of undercover investigators tackling suspected shoplifters in a Tesco car park.

Under section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967, a person “may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.”

Figures earlier this year revealed that there has been a 26 per cent rise in shoplifting in the last year, according to the British Retail Consortium.

In Co-op stores, shoplifting has reached record levels, with an average of nearly 1,000 incidents each day in the first half of this year - an increase of 35%.

Police have been accused of failing to take the crime seriously as figures show in the 12 months to march that forces recorded 339,206 cases of shoplifting.

Reports suggest that a total of £1bn is being stolen from stores each year and an extra £700m is being spent on security measures in these retailers.

Physical assaults on front-line store workers have risen 30% year-on-year, with anti-social behaviour and verbal abuse rising by a fifth (20%).

Mr Philp hailed Co-op for training security guards and staff in its stores how to intervene against thieves.

Priti Patel speaks to Nick Ferrari on theft from shops

Mr Philp also announced on Monday that he will be asking police to check the facial images of criminals against the Home Office’s passport and immigration records.

He said the move could be a “game-changer” in the crackdown on such crimes by using advanced facial recognition technology.

“I’m going to be asking police forces to search all these databases not just for shoplifting but for crime generally,” Mr Philp said.

“It could be game-changing.”

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