The cost of North East retail theft is at its highest for almost a decade as organised crime groups and people made desperate by the ailing economy steal to survive.
A survey by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) shows customer theft responsible for 82% of all retail crime, the greatest proportion recorded in nine years.
It comes after Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird blamed welfare cuts and the financial climate on a rise in the theft of food and basic goods in the region.
She said: “At the end of last year it was apparent that people were starting to steal items they could once afford.
“There’s been growing evidence to suggest this is due to the impact of both poverty and welfare reform, with people stealing what they were once able to take for granted and just go out and buy.”
The BRC survey also reveals a spike in organised crime as thieves “steal to order”, with the average value of theft increasing by 62% to £177 per incident.
It showed that while burglaries fell by 49%, robberies were up 48% with people likely to travel from outside of the region to target North East stores.
Not only do the figures paint a picture of retailers more at risk of violence, the financial pressure is intensifying with the cost of each incident 166% higher than before the recession in 2007.
The average cost per incident of criminal damage has also jumped from £962 to £2,062, a rise of 114% from the previous year.
A BRC spokesman said: “A year after the recession started in 2009/10 you can see a rather marked spike in retail crime. You would expect to see this rise when the economy is not doing very well and you would expect to see a rise in thefts of things like food.
“However, what we have also seen is that there is a lot more serious organised crime. Although the value of the items stolen is higher, there is a more organised approach. This is what we believe is contributing to most of the increase. People are stealing to order.”
Helen Dickinson, BRC Director General, has called for police forces to support retailers.
She said: “Last year we also saw a dramatic increase in fraud and e-crime with eight in 10 retailers reporting a rise in fraud and the majority of retailers telling us that cyber-attacks pose a critical threat to their business. Combined with the increase in organised theft, this means that retailers are facing an increasingly sophisticated criminal.
“We want to work closely with Police and Crime Commissioners and the new National Crime Agency and National Cyber Crime Unit to fight this serious crime, from fraud, to theft, to cyber-attacks. Our engagement has been positive so far, but it is still early days and it is important that they implement measures such as single points of contact and create dedicated business crime strategies.”