Dramatic rise in shoplifting, theft and pickpocketing in Chiswick shops

Image above: Womenswear shop Whistles has put a locked door policy in place

“Basically, we are the police now”

Incidents of theft have surged in Chiswick along Chiswick High Road, Turnham Green Terrace, and Devonshire Road, with a significant number of retail outlets reporting an increase in shoplifting, burglary and pickpocketing. A range of businesses have been targeted, from fashion boutiques to convenience stores, specialty shops, and even charity shops, with many saying they are facing a rising tide of incidents.

The Chiswick Calendar has spoken to more than 70 people working in the retail trade in Chiswick and found that they are constantly having to deal with thefts and threats from thieves if they challenge them.

Some shops have had it so bad, management have decided to implement ‘locked door’ policies, which means customers (and would-be shoplifters) now have to knock on the door to get the attention of a member of staff in order to be let in. Other security measures shops have been forced to consider include hiring security guards, using CCTV cameras, changing store layouts, locking doors, placing items out of sight, and using security tags on merchandise.

I spoken to many shopkeepers, who reported a marked increase in shoplifting incidents. Several traders have told us they are regularly targeted by groups of well-known thieves, but there is also a worrying trend of regular customers trying their luck. Some shops say they experience thefts almost every day, while others report incidents happening multiple times every month, every week or at least once a week.

Sam Harrison, owner of Sam’s Larder, told us he had seen a woman take a loaf of bread and a jar of preserve. He asked her to pay for them or put them back and she said, to his face: “Who’s going to stop me? No one’s going to stop me” and walked past him and out of the shop.

The type of items stolen varies, with a focus on high-value items that are easy to resell. Traders told me stolen items included clothing, accessories, cosmetics, food, alcohol, supplements and  electronics. Specific items they mentioned were designer clothes, which you might expect, but also sun cream, Pokémon cards, essential oils, and honey.

The clear message that came across from the traders I spoke to is that they feel vulnerable and totally abandoned by the police. One shop worker told me: “theft is effectively legal now in Chiswick”. Another said: “basically, we are the police now”.

The police are on record as saying they are not resourced to come out to thefts from stores. A repeated complaint from shopkeepers was that the police were either too slow to respond or did not take effective action. Many expressed their frustration at the lack of police presence or follow-up after reporting incidents.

As a result, managers and employees say they have often felt threatened or intimidated at work. Sam Harrison’s experience is common. Many have been verbally abused, dealt with aggressive thieves, and have been confronted when trying to calmly prevent theft.

Below are stories from just some of the of the 74 traders I managed to speak with on Monday (14 August).

Image above: Close up of the sign on door of eyewear shop Maverick & Wolf – which now has a locked door policy

Chiswick High Road

Whistles – “It’s something you can’t avoid”

Whistles, contemporary women’s fashion retailer on the high street, has been grappling with shoplifters for several months. The shop’s manager, Krishna Ramji, General Manager of the shop, has decided to implement a locked door policy because the frequency of thefts and attempted thefts has become so high.

“We had a lot of problems in the last month, especially the last couple of weeks have been quite bad”, Krishna said, “It’s something you can’t avoid. Being on the high street we don’t really have security… It’s increased a lot in the last month… when I say a lot, I would say three times a week.

“I spoke to Oliver Bonas, Jigsaw and Mint Velvet and they all seem to be having the same problem. We reported it to the police but unfortunately we don’t know where that stands now with them, but they have promised us they will have more presence on the high street.”

Krishna said the thieves coming in were the same group of men, who she describes as “junkies” who were often “quite aggressive”. Despite this, she and her staff have tried to approach those they suspect of shoplifting to try and prevent a theft from happening. “But when come in they’re obviously very intimidating”, Krishna added, “you don’t want to approach them. So now we just kind of shrug a bit.”

As recently as last week, neighbouring business Borough Kitchen said they spotted a thief running down the high street road a bunch of dresses from Whistles. Krishna said she hadn’t calculated the retail price of the stolen items but that it was “much more than usual”. Dresses in Whistles cost roughly between £200 and £500.

Image above: Space NK Chiswick

Space NK – Regular customer of 15 years stole “full shelf” of products

A member of staff in Space NK, a beauty shop which sells skincare products which range into hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds, said they are regularly terrorised by a Romanian gang but have recently caught regular customers red handed.

“They are known to the police because we have told them, they go to our stores all over London not just Chiswick.

“But recently we also had a regular, someone who was part of our deluxe programme, meaning they get more money off purchases and stuff, she was shopping with us for 15, 20 years really and she was caught with a full shelf of stuff in her bags… The police haven’t followed up with that one.”

The staff member, who did not give her name, said when someone from the company’s loss prevention team came to look over the shop’s CCTV, he noticed a lot more shoplifting than the staff even realised was happening.

“A lot of our stuff doesn’t have alarms, we do stock takes every week but it’s hard to see.”

To help deal with the thefts, staff have moved all of the makeup out of the gondoliers and into locked cupboards. Staff said more thieves, who looked like they were under the influence of drugs or drink, came in the last few weeks. One was “literally drooling” while walking around the store before attempting to steal something. 

Image above: Natalie Everett outside womenswear shop Jigsaw

Jigsaw – “They would come in sometimes and laugh in our faces”

Natalie Everett, who manages womenswear shop Jigsaw on Chiswick High Road, said there has been a lot of theft in the last couple of years.

“We had a really bad spell between maybe the beginning of the summer to the back end of January”, Natalie said, “I think worst thing for us is there was a group of thieves, who were clearly working together, who were targeting us loads. So much so that they would walk past the front of the shop, glare in and wave at us. They would come in sometimes and laugh in our faces.”

Natalie said she had a thief come in, stick their arm through half a dozen clothes hangers while saying “Excuse me Miss, these are mine” and then just walked out the shop. “Because nothing is done by the police… they know they can get away with it. They’re really ballsy.”

Natalie said people who have been trying to steal recently appeared to be homeless or in need. “It’s not the same group who were targeting us previously. I had an incident maybe two months ago when I was with a customer and somebody came in and took [a whole rail] of stock, there were leather jackets, silk shirts… it was probably about two £2,000 worth.”

The customer, to everyone’s surprise, chased the thief up the street and one of Natalies colleagues ran after her. “Because we’ve got a duty of care towards her and she was wrestling them! She managed to get all the stock for us which was brilliant, so I gave her a free bag”. Natalie pressed the panic button as it happened, but the police only arrived 45 minutes later when, in theory, should arrive within a few minutes.

“They said they had to come from Feltham because there’s no police facility here anymore. By the time they arrived I had resolved everything and the police were just basically… laughing. They said, we shouldn’t have to tell you to not run after them, and I said it’s human instinct number one to chase after people and my colleague just wanted to look after the customer.”

Natalie said she and her staff feel really uncomfortable because of the level of intimidation they experience on a regular basis.

Image above: Mint Velvet

Mint Velvet – “the police say there’s nothing they can do”

General Manager of Mint Velvet Sharon Powell told me a few weeks ago they the sale rack at the front of the store was raided.

“A guy ran in and grabbed a bunch of my dresses off the rail and just ran out of the shop, through the alleyway onto the common and then he’s gone. I reported it to the police and I reported it to my area manager, I put it on a log sheet. I get crime reference numbers but they say there’s nothing they can do.”

Mint Velvet are supposed to be an open door trader but have since started closing their doors, which often deters customers.

Since the uptick in shoplifting they have had around £1,000 stolen in bags and jackets, £700 in dresses and the monthly stock take losses are “huge” according to Sharon.

Everything is tagged in the shop, but that does not deter the thieves, she says. and it is often the same set of people who come in to steal. Sharon told me all she and her staff could do was to try to be more proactive and attentive when people come through the doors in the hopes they can deter thieves.

Image above: Barbara Kundzicz inside Boots Chiswick High Road

Boots – Shoplifter returned to store despite being arrested in there last Wednesday

Barbara Kundzicz, General Manager of Boots on Chiswick High Road, said:

“We get crime reports and we also have CCTV and announcements, which tell shoplifters the store is monitored and footage is passed onto the police… Recently we had one [suspected shoplifter] who is popular in our shops, they all know her… She’d been arrested last week, they kept her for one night but now she’s been released but she will have court on 18 August.

Local police from Chiswick Riverside, Chiswick Gunnersbury and Chiswick Homefields Safer Neighbourhoods team were all involved in detaining the suspect in  Boots last Wednesday (9 August). On Twitter, they attributed the swift identification of the suspect to great teamwork.

“She came back today again”, Barbara said, “and she has been banned from every Boots in the UK… but she keeps coming back!”

Barbara added that people steal “everything and anything… mainly like expensive items, cosmetics, nappies, baby milk, everything… every day.”

Image above: Mind volunteer Denise Hickey holds an empty clothes rack – a sign that something has been robbed

Charity shops – Mind, Royal Trinity Hospice and Cancer Research

Charity shops are often targeted by shoplifters.

Volunteers in Cancer Research said high value goods were often stolen, and police don’t do anything despite saying they would. “We don’t have enough volunteers and so it’s very difficult”. One volunteer said small theft was effectively legalised because police would not even investigate thefts of goods under £100.

In Royal Trinity Hospice, Natalia Rutskay said shoplifting “happens all the time” with a recent example being an expensive designer back bag stolen from the shop window.

Like others, she said there were a few regular faces and she is confused how they can still be walking around consequence free.

She says in store they try to follow them around more closely and pretend they’re being attentive with service and “gently” ask whether they would like to pay for their items.

Recently they have changed the hangers on the railings, which used to have a different colour for designer clothes, after a woman came in and grabbed the entire designer rail. Now all hangers are white, so shoplifters can’t tell which is the expensive stuff at a glance.

A few doors down, Mind had their store Tablet stolen. With their stock, they only notice when things are stolen as they go round and check the racks. Coincidentally, volunteer Denise Hickey found an empty hangar as I walked in the store and was asking questions. She said it happens all the time.

Image above: Planet Organic Chiswick High Road

Rymans, Planet Organic and Vision Express have had windows and doors smashed

Store manager of Rymans Tim Smith said they had their side window smashed in this year, with a large amount of Pokémon cards stolen, which are apparently high value and easily resaleable.

In Planet Organic, shop floor assistants described a blonde lady who always used to steal up to £200 worth of candles and the dummy display products at the front of the shop. After realising they were fake pills, she came back with a brick and used it to smash the shop’s front window – an incident which was reported to the police, who said they couldn’t do anything because there wasn’t a clear picture of her and there were no finger prints on the brick.

Tiwa, who has worked there for years, said he is suspicious of even regular customers now.

“Maybe the economic situation has affected them and maybe customers can feel uncomfortable because staff are more attentive. But you just don’t know how many people are stealing things. Meat, fish, alcohol and multivitamins. Starting to be really bad from January and now it’s out of control… Basically we are the police” 

At Vision Express, in January this year, the doors were broken down at 9.30pm and a retail value of £8,000 worth of sunglasses were stole. The same thing happened in June last year.

Manager Dipak Patel said smaller thefts were “really bad” last summer with younger kids but said this year had been much better.

Above: Footage of thieves stealing from Sweaty Betty on Turnham Green Terrace

Turnham Green Terrace

Sweaty Betty, Trotters and Laurent’s Deli – “scary for us who work here”

Christina from women’s sportswear shop Sweaty Betty said there had been spike in shoplifting when the group of travellers camped on Chiswick Back Common.

She shared footage of the incident, which shows a group of people enter the shop and immediately swipe items before going deeper into the shop.

“One of my staff members is Albanian and she could understand them because they were speaking in Romanian which is quite similar, they were vile”, said Christina. “They discriminated her race and called her a dirty Albanian” Christina reported this to the police, as well as the hate crime, but there has been no update since.

Rebecca from kids clothing shop Trotters said:

“They usually come in different seasons so when you change over to summer or autumn or winter clothing they come. We’ve had about seven, eight incidents recently.” Rebecca added someone now needs to constantly be stood at the door to greet customers coming in just so they are made aware someone is watching them.

“There was a time when the travellers were parked up we had to work on a locked door system which was awful. The worst thing about it is that it’s more scary for us who work here.”

Laurent’s Deli complained about people regularly coming in to steal wine, with about 20 bottles stolen in the last month alone.

Image above: Windfall Natural

Windfall Natural, Lizard and Ollie Quinn

Kirsten Humphries, who works in Windfall Natural on Turnham Green Terrace, said shoplifters usually try to steal essential oils, water and honey and that it happens “almost every day”. When she or other members of staff try to prevent thefts, they are verbally abused.

Kristina Daugavina, General Manager of womenswear Damsel she mainly had accessories “repeatedly stolen”. “It’s difficult to say how frequently but it’s been constant, say every second Saturday or something… We are very vigilant and very aware of these things and talking as a team about it.”

One worker in womenswear shop Lizard said:

“We had a guy try to steal a puffer coat, a high price item, but he didn’t get away with it… he wasn’t quick enough.” We had a couple of girls try to take some shoes…they tried to use misdirection by having a few of them in the shop at once. They’re recognisable faces from the High Road.”

Eyewear shop Ollie Quinn’s store manager Scarlett Francis-Khan said she had one man come in recently who tried to steal sunglasses, and then again and again when he wasn’t successful.

“It was just this one guy on his own, bit sus really. Took a couple of pairs of sunglasses. He’s tried again, been in a couple of times… But now I’m on him straight away. I just hound him with ‘Do you need any help’ and then he realises he can’t do it”.

Image above: Sam Harrison at Sam’s Larder on Turnham Green Terrace

Postmark, Sam’s Larder and Heisenberg Coffee

Nicola Lawrence, general manager of card and stationary shop postmark said:

“I had a phone stolen from here almost a month ago and I had a customer who got robbed as they left the store…”

“It was recent but it’s more than once.. three times in the space of six weeks… We don’t leave any personal items anymore on the shop floor and keep everything downstairs. We just try to be more aware really.” Police gave a crime reference number but they’ve not heard anything since.

John Gee who works in Sam’s Larder said there had been a rise in the last month, with two types of people coming in to steal things.

“It happens once or twice a week… It could be candles, it could be gifting stuff or it could just be food. You’ve got two types of people, people who are likely drug users who are stealing to feed their habit and the others who are shoplifting out of necessity.”

John says the staff have moved stock around in response to the rise in shoplifting, putting more expensive items out of sight. Police have not investigated anything and there has been no extra presence. 

Sonia Osmani, GM of Heisenberg Coffee which has takeaway food and drinks in a fridge by the door said:

“They try to distract the customers and take their phones or bags, or anything they see that’s valuable. It’s happened three times from January until now. They have been successful two times but the third time I warned the customers, I said be careful they’re not here to get a coffee”. One woman who had her phone stolen in the coffee shop was travelling the UK and only visiting Chiswick when she was robbed.

Image above: Library picture, Wild Swans interior

Devonshire Road

Simon Carter, Wild Swans and Lark

Sheleen and Nicola from Wild Swans said they have had shoplifters come in for three weekends in row. They’ve stolen trousers, dresses and other clothing. The pair said most most merchandise was £100 per item.

A man working in men’s clothing shop Simon Carter said “social miscreants” sometimes come in a and try to steal things. Mainly, it’s a group of boys who have tried to misdirect but were not successful.

Lark similarly have a keen eye for thieves but sometimes miss them. A young woman who works there said they mainly lose candles to shoplifters as they’re right next to the door.

The Chiswick Calendar will be following up these reports with the police, to try and get some kind of answer about why they seem incapable of catching even the most blatant repeat offenders who are apparently known to all the traders, but not to the police.