Wyre Forest’s police chief has called on residents to stop supporting the crooks who sell on goods stolen from local stores to fund drug habits.
In a public appeal Inspector Jake Wright highlighted the connection between shoplifting and drug use, pointing out how communities could play their part by breaking the link between the two.
He said: “I would estimate that around 70% of theft offences in Wyre Forest are for consumable goods. I consistently see hundreds of pounds worth of meats stolen in one go, or multiple jars of coffee, or packs of cheese.
“These consumables typically have a ‘best before’ date and, with little or no refrigeration, need to be moved on quickly. Often they’re sold for a fraction of their retail cost presenting a ‘bargain’ to the purchaser…they need quick money to fund addiction.
He went on: “In order to drive down theft we need to drive down the ‘hidden market’ that exists that makes stealing worthwhile – if they can’t sell it they won’t steal it.”
“By driving down the hidden market and reducing theft we’ll reduce the demand on class A drug use and start suffocating a thriving business model which is intrinsically linked to many of the issues many of us wish we could stamp out.”
He sent out this warning:
“Many of you will have an idea about where this stolen property goes. If you buy it, please stop. You will be arrested for handling stolen goods and, as attractive as it is, you are directly contributing to the drug abuse and the organised crime affecting Wyre Forest. I suspect – as has happened in the past – another local business may be buying stolen food items and using them through their legitimate frontage. Again, once identified you will be prosecuted.
“Please help us help you and tell us where the stolen property is sold on.”
One of the shopkeepers regularly targeted by shoplifters is Amit Singh, who manages Foley Park Convenience Store and Post Office.
In one incident last week he directly confronted a shoplifter trying to make off with a case of beer and was subsequently injured, suffering cuts and bruises to his face. A man has been charged in connection with the incident.
The theft was the latest in a catalogue of incidents at the small community shop, all captured on 22 high resolution 4k security cameras dotted throughout the interior and outside.
Amit has become almost used to thieves helping themselves to goods from his shop. He reckons he loses at least £50 in petty thieving every month – enough to make a decent dent in his hopes of turning a profit.
Last year he confronted two teenagers who stole from his shop in what was clearly a planned operation. They turned out to be armed with a knife and also a petrol bomb, which was thrown at his legs as the burglars attempted to flee. Fortunately it did not explode, so Amit’s injuries were relatively minor. The culprits have since been convicted.
That would be enough to put most people off from confrontation, and Amit has indeed told his staff to never approach a thief themselves, and certainly never to pursue them. “It’s not worth risking their lives over,” he says.
But Amit, a proud Sikh, says he will step in if he feels it is safe to do so. “Sikhs are warriors for truth – it is part of our faith. So I can’t just stand by and let someone walk out with things they have stolen, it’s not right.”
He shares some of the content from his security cameras with me. In one, a mum sneaks bottles of wine into her baby’s buggy, using the child as a cover for theft. In the next, an elderly guy grabs packets of haribo sweets and pops them into his coat pockets.
In one particularly brazen incident on a scorching hot day last June, a man dressed in a heavy overcoat thinks he is cleverly sneaking away a shopping list’s worth of food – cheese, sweets, meat and booze disappear from the shelves into his deep pockets and inside the coat.
But Amit, alerted by the man’s attire, watched the incident unfold live on his monitor and then confronted the man at the shop doorway.
“He denied taking anything, and it ended up in a bit of a scuffle, pushing back and forth. Eventually he tried to make a dive for the door and we ended up on the floor. Some of the stuff fell out of his pockets and he was still denying having anything! Eventually he held his hands up and we settled it between us – I took back the goods and banned him from coming here again.”
In another bizarre recorded incident a middle aged man picks up a four pack of oven cleaners, then deliberately removes each one and puts them in his pocket, returning the empty packaging to the shelf. He then moves on to the children’s toy section, and removes some little characters from a package before doing the same. When confronted by Amit he is very apologetic. The goods are returned and they part on amicable terms.
There are dozens such incidents captured on Amit’s security system.
In nearly all of these incidents Amit decided not to alert the police.
“If I contacted them every time someone tried to steal a few sweets or a can of beer I’d always be on the phone. If I can, I will deal with it myself. I am always polite. If it’s young kids I tell their parents – some are brilliant, some seem not to care. I know most of the people around here so I try to just deal with it myself.”
Amit took over the store in mid 2015. Owned by his uncle, he’s built the store up from practically nothing to a thriving community resource. “When we opened I’d sometimes go all day with barely a customer. People just didn’t like to shop here. I’ve put in a huge amount of effort since to make it a useful, welcoming place for people to shop and visit the post office. ”
The shop still made a big loss last year but the turnaround is on course and Amit has high hopes of posting a profit this year. But the scourge of shoplifting, combined with rising business rates and soaring utility bills, are denting his prospects.
In its most recent survey, the British Retail Crime Consortium estimated the cost of shoplifting to the UK economy was at a record high of around £438million. They also found that 56% of retailers thought police response to retail crime was “poor or very poor”.
Amit is sympathetic to the local police, recognising that resources are stretched and low-value shop theft is not on their list of priorities. “It’s why I don’t bother them every time – it’s not worth it.”
That in turn means the police locally cannot use the data to illustrate the issue and call for extra resources.
Inspector Wright, addressing this point, said it was accepted nationally that as few as one in ten shoplifting offences were reported to the police, though he felt that the local reporting rate was better.
His team work closely with shopkeepers to address issues but could not directly investigate every theft.
Anyone with any information relating to shop theft and the sale and purchasing of stolen goods is urged to contact the dedicated, confidential Crimestoppers service on 0800 555 111 or https://crimestoppers-uk.org/