Home Secretary Priti Patel says the police must do more to protect retailers who are targeted for their stock outside wholesale depots.
Speaking during a visit to to Costco in Chingford with local MP Iain Duncan Smith, she explained the importance of not only highlighting wholesale crime, but for police to work with wholesalers and retailers to stop the crimes in the first place.
“I grew up in the retail world and I’ve seen the effect of having your stock stolen. Theft of high value products like tobacco can decimate a business. They can destroy cash flow, and the goodwill of the business as well. The police have to do more,” she said. “They have to come down to wholesale outlets and work with wholesalers to make sure gangs are absolutely not preying on their customers.”
Patel said she will be telling Borough Commanders that “It’s not good enough and we need police action. If they don’t so something about it, they will answer to me.”
In 2019, Better Wholesaling’s sister title RN, discovered that more than 18 wholesale customers were victims of robberies at cash and carries every month, with 436 incidents of theft from a person or vehicle outside the depot taking place between 2017-2018.
Freedom of information requests sent to the UK’s police authorities also uncovered that the average wholesale customer robbed lost £1,618.66, with some claims submitted to police as high as £10,000 in stock and cash. Of the 45 police forces contacted, 75% provided data and 33% provided crime breakdowns for individual premises in their area.
Read more: Cash and carry robberies revealed
The Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) told Ms Patel that although the number of incidents has decreased in the last year, retailers buying tobacco and other high-value products have been targeted either on cash and carry car parks or after leaving the site. FWD members report that police forces’ response is so inadequate that criminals are increasingly using violence and intimidation as they have no fear of prosecution.
Wholesalers have invested in CCTV, number plate recognition cameras and security patrols to protect their customers and colleagues. Posters and flyers in cash and carry depots warn visitors not to leave stock or personal belongings unattended in their vehicles.
FWD chief executive James Bielby said: “Today we told the Home Secretary that criminals who target retailers have no fear being caught and prosecuted. Police response to thefts and robberies from customers in cash and carry car parks has been appalling. In many cases, officers have refused to even attend incidents, let alone investigate them.
“This is not shoplifting, it is organised crime, and it’s an issue for all cash and carry operators equally. A single tobacco theft can cost a small independent shop thousands of pounds. Increasingly, the criminals will use or threaten violence. Where wholesalers have put in security measures to protect their customers, the criminals have followed vehicles off the premises and attacked them in transit.
“It’s not right that small shop owners should be put at physical or financial risk because the police ignore these thefts and robberies. We have asked the Home Secretary to urgently instruct police forces to give greater priority to apprehending and prosecuting the criminals who do this.
“Retailers can do a lot to protect themselves and their stock by ensuring they don’t leave their vehicle unattended while shopping. Most incidents could be avoided with simple measures like locking your vehicle and not leaving cash or belongings on display. Depot staff are always on hand to help them transfer their purchases to their van and help them load. We also recommend that retailers leaving the C&C keep an eye out for vehicles following them, and call the police immediately if they suspect they are being followed,” he concluded.