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Co-op boss urges police to take shoplifting more seriously after £33m cost | Crime

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The boss of the Co-op grocery chain has called on the police to take shoplifting more seriously and says he is frustrated by a lack of action against thieves who cost the business £33m in the first half of 2023.

Matt Hood, the chain’s managing director, said shoplifting was becoming a major issue for UK communities and cited a rise in what he called “shop looting”, where large amounts are stolen by organised gangs.

The Co-op has seen crime, shoplifting and antisocial behaviour jump 35% year-on-year, with more than 175,000 incidents recorded in the first six months of this year – or almost 1,000 incidents every day.

Hood said the perception that shoplifting was a response to the cost of living crisis had given rise to the idea that it was a “consequence-less crime” by those in need and the lack of a proper policing response had seen it “grow as an epidemic in the UK”.

While historically thieves have targeted certain products such as cigarettes, he said they were now stealing all kinds of items from confectionery to meat and health and beauty products.

Hood said the Co-op had invested £200m in body cameras for staff, CCTV and other measures to keep employees safe as the group was losing stock worth more than £70m a year. He said he was becoming “increasingly frustrated” about police inaction, claiming they failed to respond to 71% of reports of serious crimes.

“We need police to be on the front foot in helping us retailers deal with persistent offenders,” Hood said.

The fashion and homewares retailer Next’s boss, Simon Wolfson, said on Thursday it had also seen a rise in shoplifting which had hit profit margins by 0.2%. Last week, John Lewis said it had suffered a £12m year-on-year increase in theft with its chair, Sharon White, calling shoplifting an “epidemic”. However, Wolfson played down the impact, saying it should not be exaggerated.

The Co-operative Group, which owns funerals, insurance and legal advisory businesses as well as a chain of food stores, revealed it had fallen £33m into the red in the six months to 1 July after sales dipped by just under 4% to £5.4bn. The company said most of the fall was due to the £600m sale of its petrol forecourts business to Asda, with underlying sales at its food stores up 6%.

The company expected to make a “modest loss” for the full year but said it had reduced debts and improved cashflow, enabling it to invest £70m in cutting prices for shoppers in the second half of the year, on top of £20m in the first half.

Hood said the investment was required as – while the price of commodities including edible oils, wheat and dairy were falling – the wholesale cost of most other food stuffs continued to rise with an “incredible amount of stickiness” on inflation in core foods.

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