ARMED gangs of shoplifters are running riot in supermarkets across the country but retail chiefs have accused police of ignoring them.
Grocery giant The Co-op has recorded the highest level of shoplifting in its history – with 1,000 attacks each day over the past six months, new figures reveal.
This is up by 35 per cent compared to last year and the Co-op says it has been forced to spend four times as much on security as other firms.
Branch managers have told of harrowing ordeals such as groups of masked and armed youngsters battering through glass doors, leaping over kiosks and looting shelves.
Assaults on staff are up by almost 30 per cent, with 20 per cent more anti-social behaviour and verbal abuse.
Employees described being threatened by raiders threatening them with knives and screwdrivers.
Now company chiefs have accused police forces of failing to help protect them.
The Co-op submitted Freedom of Information requests which showed officers failed to respond to 71 per cent of serious retail crimes.
The company says some areas could become no-go areas for them, with one store in London looted three times in one day.
The Co-op has invested more than £200million in recent years into security measures – including CCTV, body-worn cameras for workers and GPS-tracked tags and cases.
They are also putting more and more dummy packaging on shelves, including empty coffee jars, such is the soaring levels of theft – while treats such as chocolate bars are being locked away.
The security bills means they are spending four times, per store, the average across the retail sector, the Times reported – costs which could become unsustainable in future, the firm fears.
Matt Hood, managing director of Co-op Food, demanded police do more to crack down on “repeat and prolific offenders and organised criminal gangs”.
He said: “I have seen some horrific incidents of brazen and violent theft in our stores, where my store colleagues feel scared and threatened.
“It’s hard to over-emphasise how important urgent change is.
“Co-op has invested significantly in keeping colleagues and stores safe, but we need the police to play their part.
“Too often, forces fail to respond to desperate calls by our store teams and criminals are operating in communities without any fear of consequences.”
Among the staff members now speaking out is east London store manager Zarah, who called the situation “terrifying” and “worse than ever before” in her 20 years with The Co-op.
She added: “Shoplifting has always been there but this is different – they just sweep the products off the shelves.”
David Brook, working at a branch in Leeds, told of raiders showing off knives, screwdrivers and needles they threaten to use on staff.
And Yasmin, manager of a store in north-west London, said: “We risked our lives working through Covid and now it feels like we are risking our lives all over again.”
Attacks have included a gang’s ram-raid of a Co-op in Poole, Dorset, using a stolen Range Rover to smash their way in before ransacking the store.
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the shop workers union Usdaw said: “Evidence is mounting that retail crime is on the increase.
“This is very concerning for our members in retail, because shoplifting is not a victimless crime.
“Theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers and, as The Co-op rightly says, it is often linked to organised crime gangs.”
The Co-op has previously warned of a spike in criminals shoplifting huge quantities of baby milk powder so they can mix it with drugs.
Earlier this year staff at a Co-op branch in Corby, Northamptonshire, had “poisonous chemicals” sprayed in their faces.
The British Retail Consortium says cases of shoplifting are rocketing, with 7.9million across the nation’s stores last year — 5million up on 2016-2017.
Meanwhile, staff at the UK Addiction Treatment Group have seen an “astronomical” rise in people seeking help with shoplifting addiction.
The rehab and recovery centre has averaged about 30 calls a week this year compared to just ten a month in 2022.