Politicians, both national and local, react to record level of theft

  • Home Secretary instructs police to investigate every theft no matter how small
  • Chiswick councillors back The Chiswick Calendar’s suggestion that LB Hounslow follows Hammersmith & Fulham’s example and pays for Local Enforcement Team to support the police in Chiswick
  • Chiswick Police Tweet about what they are doing to try and catch shoplifters
  • Councillors meet local traders and police to discuss the issue

Image above: Chiswick High Road; photograph Anna Kunst

Home Secretary wants “radical change” in the way the police approach theft, shoplifting and criminal damage

The Home Secretary has told the Police she wants them to investigate every theft and to use evidence from smart doorbells and dashcams to solve lower-level crimes. New guidance on investigating such crimes is to be issued to all forces in England and Wales.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Suella Braverman said it was “completely unacceptable” that criminals were often “effectively free to break certain laws.

“The most serious crimes flourish when lower-level criminality and antisocial behaviour are not tackled” she wrote. “Victims of these awful crimes are failed when police simply don’t take an interest in following reasonable leads – instead just handing out a crime reference number.”

Home Office figures show that in the past year from April 2022 to March 2023 just 4.4% of all theft offences resulted in someone being charged. The proportion closed because no suspect had been identified was 73.7%, the highest rate for any category of crime.

Image above: Mind volunteer Denise Hickey holds an empty clothes rack – a sign that something has been robbed; Sign on door of eyewear shop Maverick & Wolf – which now has a locked door policy

Dramatic rise in shoplifting, theft and pickpocketing in Chiswick shops

The Chiswick Calendar highlighted the extent of shoplifting, theft and pickpocketing in Chiswick two weeks ago with a special report.

Our reporter Matt Smith talked to more than 70 shopkeepers and shopworkers in Chiswick High Rd, Devonshire Rd and Turnham Green Terrace and many of them told him they were targeted repeatedly by shoplifters but the police took no action beyond giving them a crime reference number for the insurance, even though the shop workers recognised repeat offenders.

READ ALSO: Dramatic rise in shoplifting, theft and pickpocketing in Chiswick shops

Shops of all sorts, from fashion boutiques to convenience stores, are reporting thefts from their premises almost daily. Some are now implementing a ‘locked door’ policy, meaning customers now have to knock on the door to get the attention of a member of staff in order to be let in.

One shop worker told Matt: “theft is effectively legal now in Chiswick”. Another said: “basically, we are the police now”.

Images above: Tweet from Times correspondent Jenni Russell; Chiswick crime story in the news pages

Chiswick example taken up by national media

Our report has been followed up and highlighted by the Daily Mail, The Times, both on the news pages and by columnist Jenni Russell, and on James O’Brien’s LBC programme.

The Daily Mail did interviews with some of the traders we spoke to and others, who told similar tales of staff having to deal constantly with shoplifting, abuse and intimidation, published under the headline ‘Fortress Chiswick: How affluent suburb that is home to rich and famous has fallen victim to terrifying crime wave which has seen Aled Jones threatened with machete, commuters mugged and boutique owners forced to lock their doors.’

The Times did something similar, managing to get a quote from the Metropolitan Police:

‘We understand shoplifting is a ward priority in Chiswick and we are striving to tackle this for businesses and residents.’

Jenni Russell’s piece was more incisive, accusing Braverman and the Conservative politicians who preceded her of ‘acute political hypocrisy’.

‘The policies implemented by every Tory government over the past 13 years have in effect decriminalised most shoplifting, mugging, theft, robbery and minor assault, encouraging exactly the kind of shameless lawbreaking planned this month. [Referring to the mass robbery planned on social media in Oxford Street recently).

‘A quiet undermining of norms and order is unfolding on Britain’s streets and it won’t be reversed by a few theatrical actions and declarations.

‘The police no longer bother to respond to the majority of low-level crimes because after years of cuts, imposed from George Osborne onwards, they don’t have the officers, resources or the premises to do so.’

Read her piece (behind a pay wall) here: A shoplifting epidemic is going unpunished

Images above: Natalie Everett, manager of Jigsaw – “Because nothing is done by the police… they know they can get away with it”; Barbara Kundzicz, manager of Boots – people steal “everything and anything… mainly like expensive items, cosmetics, nappies, baby milk, everything… every day.”

Shoplifting ‘effectively decriminalised’

Shoplifting of goods worth less than £200 was downgraded to a summary offence in the 2014 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, which allows anyone stealing goods costing less than £200 to plead guilty by post as an alternative to appearing at the magistrates’ court.

Former Scotland Yard detective David McKelvey told The Telegraph two years ago this had given a green light to police to abandon prosecutions and investigations into such thefts which could tie up an officer for six to eight hours when they could be tackling more serious crime.

“The Government has effectively decriminalised shoplifting. Provided a thief stays below the £200 threshold, they are not going to be arrested” he said.

Even if they were prosecuted, the fixed penalty for a summary offence is £70, leaving them with a profit of £130 before they risked serious consequences.

The Metropolitan Police have acknowledged publicly that they do not pursue low value thefts from shops. Hounslow Police officers confirmed at a Chiswick Area Forum five years ago that they only investigated if the value of the goods stolen was over £50, as they did not have the resources to investigate every theft.

READ ALSO: Shoplifting under £50 won’t be investigated by police

David McKelvey told The Telegraph courts had been told that they could not award costs for any prosecution of shoplifting of goods worth less than £200 as it was barred under rules for summary offences. When Sir Geoffrey Vos took over as Master of the Rolls in 2021 he issued courts with an updated Guide to the Summary Assessment of Costs, which states:

‘The court will only allow costs which are proportionate to the matters in issue … Costs incurred are proportionate if they bear a reasonable relationship to the sums in issue in the proceedings’.

In other words, not only will they not be pursued by the police, but it is not worth retailers prosecuting the thefts of goods worth less than £200 privately either, as they will not be awarded costs if they win, and the costs of a private prosecution would far outweigh the financial loss of the shoplifting.

Shop theft nationally reaches record high

Nationally, retailers reported a spike in thefts in the few years after 2014, and this year shop theft across the convenience sector has reached a record high. According to the Association of Convenience Stores 35% local shop owners who took part in their survey said shoplifting had increased in the past year. London is the hardest hit. In London 48% of retailers reported an increase.

Image above: Officers for Hammersmith & Fulham’s Law Enforcement Team

Does Chiswick need a Law Enforcement Team like Hammersmith?

As a follow-up to our special report on shoplifting in Chiswick, we wanted to see how neighbouring areas support shopkeepers. Matt went on patrol with LB Hammersmith & Fulham’s Law Enforcement Team – a group of 72 uniformed officers who act as the council’s eyes and ears and provide information to the police to try and drive down environmental crime and anti-social behaviour.

READ ALSO: Does Chiswick need a Law Enforcement Team like Hammersmith?

Chiswick’s councillors ask LB Hounslow to follow LB Hammersmith & Fulham’s example

The eight Conservative councillors who represent Chiswick on Hounslow Council have now backed this suggestion and say they are taking it up with the Council. Chiswick’s only Labour councillor, Amy Croft, has also given it her backing.

Chiswick’s Conservative councillors say they would like to see the creation of a new Council Law Enforcement Team to counter the recent spate of crime in Chiswick and that they have arranged urgent meetings with Hounslow Council to discuss the creation of a dedicated Law Enforcement Team:

“The team could patrol Chiswick High Road, Turnham Green Terrace and other hotspot areas, and officers would have the power to issue fixed penalty notices for anti-social behaviour, report abandoned bikes for removal, enforce public space protection orders and obtain the name and address of offenders to coordinate with police officers.

“Law Enforcement Officers would also be issued with body-cameras, and would act as a visible deterrent to potential criminals.”

Cllr John Todd, who represents Chiswick Homefields ward, which includes part of the High Road, said:

“Both anecdotal conversations with shopkeepers and local crime stats show that the current provisions for enforcing the law in the borough of Hounslow are not effective, so we need to look at additional measures to keep residents and businesses safe.

“Hounslow already has an enforcement team that deals with litter, predominantly in Hounslow town centre – it’s time to replace these officers with a team that emulates the success of Hammersmith’s Law Enforcement Team.”

Amy Croft, Labour councillor for Chiswick Riverside, said she was also supportive of the Council paying for a Law Enforcement Team along the lines of LB Hammersmith and Fulham’s team “in principle” and she had spoken to Council Leader Shantanu Rajawat to see if it was something they could do.

“He’s open for discussion” she told The Chiswick Calendar. “We recognise we need to do something and we need to find a borough-wide solution.”

On our report, Cllr jack Emsley said:

“The Chiswick Calendar has provided a valuable public service by exposing rising crime in the area over the past few weeks. Matt Smith’s important special report underlined both the importance of good local journalism and just how lucky we are in Chiswick to have high quality local media. I’m glad councillors and the local press can come together to call for action to both protect businesses and keep residents safe.”

Images above: Recent Tweets by Chiswick Police

Chiswick Police Tweet about the arrest of a shoplifter in advance of meeting with councillors and traders

Chiswick Police are keen to show that they are doing something about the endemic shoplifting.

Usually they Tweet about ‘community engagement’ – how they are patrolling the area and how residents can help themselves, by giving crime prevention advice and support, but on Thursday (24 August) they posted that the same ‘prolific shoplifter’ they arrested in Boots on 9 August ‘was seen again by PCSO Spilsbury before being chased down and arrested by PC Allo. She’s now safely locked away to attend court.’

Prior to their Tweet on 9 August there had been no specific mention of shoplifting arrests on the account over the previous six years. Chiswick councillors have arranged a meeting on Friday morning with local traders and police to address the issue of shoplifting.