Youths ‘film theft for TikTok’ and a shopkeeper died tackling shoplifters - businesses call for government aid

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Muntazir Dipoti, president of the Federation of Independent Retailers, said shop owners do think ‘am I going to be coming back home tonight or not?’

Independent shop owners are calling for more help from the government as they say they are facing increasing incidents of shoplifting and abuse from customers.

The business owners claim that such incidents are being perpetrated by youths who are filming what they are doing and then sharing the videos on TikTok, and they blame the cost of living crisis for the rise in such happenings. In some cases, the shop owners say the incidents have forced them to shut up shop permanently. 

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Muntazir Dipoti, president of the Federation of Independent Retailers (FIR) which has 10,500 members, said 850 incidents of theft or verbal abuse are recorded across its members every day, and incidents have increased 25 percent in the last year.

The calls come weeks after NationalWorld revealed a TikTok trend where shoplifters are sharing their best tips for stealing from stores by using the word borrowing.

A shopkeeper died trying to stop shoplifters

One independent retailer died after suffering a heart attack when tackling shoplifters, Dipoti said, as reported by the PA news agency. 

He said that the FIR member who had died was a Scottish shop owner who tried to tackle teenagers who were stealing and verbally abusing him. He then suffered a heart attack.

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Dipoti added: “He died on the spot. The retailers feel so unsafe, we shouldn’t feel so unsafe. You do think ‘am I going to be coming back home tonight or not?’, you just don’t know.”

Dipoti also appealed to shop owners and shop workers not to try to intervene if they see someone stealing something because they could end up being harmed. “My message is not to tackle them because it’s not worth it as you don’t know what they’re going to pull out.”

Thousands of pounds of damage in minutes

Another shopkeeper had to evacuate their premises and call armed police while between £70,000 and £100,000 worth of damage was caused inside by just one offender, Dipoti said. The incident is said to have happened recently in the West Midlands.

Describing the incident, Dipoti said: “This guy walked into the shop, he was completely out of it, took his top off and opened a couple of wine bottles and started drinking it, then started throwing bottles. 

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“The worker got all of the customers out of the shop and there was an off-duty police officer there who rang the police and asked for armed officers. In 12 or 13 minutes he caused £70,000 to £100,000 worth of damage.”

Shopkeepers say youths are ‘filming theft of items for TikTok’ and have called on the government to help them more. Photo by Adobe Photos.Shopkeepers say youths are ‘filming theft of items for TikTok’ and have called on the government to help them more. Photo by Adobe Photos.
Shopkeepers say youths are ‘filming theft of items for TikTok’ and have called on the government to help them more. Photo by Adobe Photos. | WS-Design - stock.adobe.com

‘The government should offer financial help’

Dipoti is now calling on the government to give a grant of £1,500 to independent retailers to help them improve their security.

He said: “The majority of retailers have got CCTV but their cameras might not be the latest technology, for example HD cameras, we feel £1,500 would suffice to get them where they need to be. Retailers would feel like they’ve been listened to and supported and it’ll give them that confidence.

“In the last six months, we’ve had 30 or 40 shops close and they’re saying they can’t keep up with theft and with rising costs because of the cost-of-living crisis, it’s not just affecting normal people it’s affecting businesses as well. It’s a sad situation unfortunately.”

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‘Cost of living fuels increase in shoplifting’

Dipoti said that due to the cost-of-living crisis, people have gone from stealing more expensive items to everyday products such as tins of spam or packs of butter. Many stores, including high street stores and independent shops, have had to put security tags on such everyday items to try to prevent theft. It’s just one of eight measures that stores have introduced in the last year or so to try to protect their stock from theft.

Various big name stores, including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and the Co-op agave also agreed to fund a scheme called Project Pegasus. This will see them pay police to scan shoplifters' faces through the Police National Database, which uses facial recognition technology. It is hoped that by joining together in this project, the stores will all see a reduction in the number of thefts of products from their shelves.  The companies are expected to pay around £600,000 towards the scheme.

Dipoti added that people who have previously been law-abiding shoppers for many years may have turned to theft due to the on-going money crisis. He said: “I had an incident a couple of months ago where this customer I’ve known for 12 or 13 years who comes every week bought her shopping, then a staff member said I’m sure she put something in her bag, I brushed it off but the next time a staff member kept a close eye on her and she did it again.”

Members have also told Dipoti that they have seen a rise in youths filming themselves stealing from shops to post on social media sites such as TikTok. 

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‘Retailers have given up on police help’

Dipoti criticised the police for what he said is their ‘lack of response’ to incidents of shop theft and abuse. “There’s just no trust in the police unfortunately because of the lack of response, they’ve not got the resources to turn up, the retailers have given up. Shopkeepers are human beings as well.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Shoplifting strikes at the heart of the British high street, and the Policing Minister has asked forces to take a zero tolerance approach to this crime.

“By enabling retailers to share better information on shoplifting with police forces and build up a national strategic picture, Project Pegasus will help crack down on criminal gangs across the country.”

Home Office minister Chris Philp said: “We have record police numbers and I expect them to help all retailers. This scheme will help all retailers, not just the big ones, as it will identify criminal gangs. It is an important part of the response.”

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Dame Sharon White, the boss of John Lewis, previously said shoplifting has become an “epidemic”, with incidents not always investigated by police. John Lewis is also one of the retailers which have agreed to fund Project Pegasus.

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