At the height of her crime, Kim Farry was making more than £20,000 a month shoplifting and her living room was constantly full of stolen loot.
What began as a way to support her family ended with the mother of six being trapped in an all-consuming addiction for 46 years.
Now, after several lengthy stints in prison and with her money “wasted,” her story serves as a stark warning.
Kim shares her experience as shoplifting has increased by more than 30 per cent, retailers have lost £953million last year and store workers have witnessed more than 800 violent incidents every day.
The 62-year-old told The Sun on Sunday: “What started as a necessity turned into an addiction that took my children away from their mothers.
“When one of my kids was embarrassed to bring her friends over for a sleepover because we had so much stuff I stole at home, I finally knew I had to change.”
This week, the government unveiled plans to address the problem in a Crime and Justice Bill that would see mandatory jail terms for repeat offenses and greater use of facial recognition technology by police and businesses.
Latest police data showed a 30.9 per cent increase in registered shoplifting in the UK compared to last year.
But those on the front lines say the numbers don’t reflect the true scale of the problem.
In its latest crime survey, published in March, trade organization British Retail Consortium found that there had been eight million cases of shopper theft in the past year.
Leeds city center has seen a huge increase in shoplifting with 2,157 crimes recorded – an 83 per cent increase on the previous year.
Armadillo Toys manager Lisa Caley says local business owners use WhatsApp to inform each other about known shoplifters in the area.
She said: “I’ve worked in retail for 20 years and this is the worst thing ever.”
“It eats away at our profits and small businesses are doing badly.
“Men and women come in with children who are clearly not their own and use them as a distraction to steal items.”
Lisa, 44, added: “Last week a man with a child stole £150 worth of Pokémon cards. They are most likely sold online.
“It is up to companies to find practical solutions. Our WhatsApp group has become vital – we all alert each other to threats and act as one business community.”
The cooperative recently released figures showing that police failed to respond to more than 70 per cent of serious crime alerts at its branches.
Cases of shoplifting and antisocial behavior rose 35 percent from a year earlier, as criminal gangs target stores to steal goods such as coffee, alcohol and baby food used to reduce drug use.
Richard Inglis, who runs three Co-op stores in Hampshire, said: “On a bad day there can be up to eight incidents across our stores.
“Occasionally we have a day when we take a break, but to give you an idea, in July we had 80 recorded incidents.
“These people are not starving. It is not desperate mothers trying to feed their children who are targeting our businesses, but organized criminals. You are not desperate.
“When they raid the meat departments, they only steal the best cuts of steak and take multiple cuts.”
And Richard believes that the burden of proof for a shoplifting conviction is now so extreme that the crime has essentially been decriminalized.
On Sunday, The Sun visited Durrington, a suburb of the seaside town of Worthing in West Sussex and England’s most shoplifted area.
Businesses there are accusing Sussex Police of “giving up” and “conceding defeat” in the face of the shoplifting attack.
Latest police data showed that there were 487 shoplifting events in Durrington South last year – that’s almost 20 per shop.
Within seconds of our reporter’s arrival, police pulled up in front of a co-op and dealt with a troublemaker who was suspected to be a shoplifter.
The store’s team leader, Liam Williams, told The Sun on Sunday the store had been attacked several times a day.
He said: “We are the worst affected place in England and Wales but the police are not looking into it.”
“It happens several times a day. They know they can get away with it. It’s mostly the same group of people, they laugh in our faces.
“I’ve been here for three and a half years and it’s the worst thing ever.”
After an incident earlier that year, Liam tried to stop a nearby police car and recalled: “They said they would come back later but they drove off and no one came back.
“We are fighting a losing battle. We’re losing tens of thousands of pounds.”
Pavananthi Sachithanatham, manager of the Premier supermarket next door, said children attacked nearby shops with swords.
He said: “The perpetrators are very young, around 12 or 13 years old. It’s a crime wave.
“Every day we are plagued by shoplifters and problems. We lost a lot.”
Statistics show that in the 12 months to March, just 48,218 shoplifting cases registered by police led to prosecutions, a rate of just 14 percent.
And 54 percent of investigations — 183,450 cases — were closed without identifying a suspect.
While more than half of the retailers surveyed by the BRC said the police response to shoplifting was fair, a significant number described it as bad or very bad.
A change in the law in 2014 means that theft of goods worth £200 or less now falls under the category of anti-social behaviour, with the perpetrators being more likely to be fined without having to appear in court.
This week a government official indicated it was ready to build more prisons to house frequent shoplifters.
Transport Secretary Richard Holden said: “I think there was an issue where police sometimes didn’t pay enough attention to some of these offences.
“But they’re having a really big impact on our shopping streets and businesses across the country.
“If people consistently break the law, they should go to jail, and if we need to build more jail places for them, then so be it.”
But jail time didn’t deter shoplifting addict Kim, whose habit soon spiraled out of control.
She recalled: “I was one of nine children and my mother had nothing. I remember once we only had one egg in the house to eat.
“I started out stealing groceries, but soon realized I could steal more than that by grabbing clothes, handbags, anything small enough to grab and run out of the store with.
“Soon I was stealing things to order and paying others to steal things to order – it became big business for me. I became known as “Kim’s Catalogue”.
“I was making up to £20,000 a month.
“It was money I wasted and I was miserable.
“I’ve had several lengthy prison terms, and even the fact that I had kids didn’t stop me.”
It wasn’t until January 2015 that Kim, from Fulham, west London, realized how ashamed her children were of her and decided to get out of crime.
She said: “I had nothing to show other than a criminal record and savings, but I just knew I couldn’t go on like this.”
“I went cold turkey and told my kids who didn’t believe I could change.
“But that just made me more determined.
“It’s been over eight years now and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier.
“I volunteer and talk to young offenders so they can hear my story and get back on track.
“I worked with the police.
“After everything I’ve done, I want to make the world a better place.”
TECHNOLOGY FIGHTS CRIME
SHOPS are using technology to fight the scourge of shoplifting.
The Information Commissioner’s Office, the data and privacy regulator, recently approved the Facewatch facial recognition system for use in stores.
The £10-a-day technology can be linked to CCTV cameras and linked to a database of images of common shoplifters.
Supermarket chains that have tested the software include Spar, Budgens, Costcutter and Sports Direct.
When a repeat offender enters a store, the technology recognizes them within seconds and sends a Bluetooth alert to staff.
You can then reach out to the person and ask if they need help – to make it clear that they are being monitored.
Facewatch founder Simon Gordon said the software was 99.85 percent accurate.
He told The Sun on Sunday: “It’s a game changer. Stores that use it have seen an average 40 percent reduction in thefts.
“In every store, it’s the same 10 or 20 people who commit the theft.
“Our technology targets them. Everyone who uses it sees a big reduction in the first 90 days.
“We are about to win a really big player on the market. The interest is enormous.”
It is claimed that shoplifting has fallen in stores where the technology has been used and that the number of assaults on workers has fallen by 20 percent.
Dave Hiscutt, who owns five independent businesses in the South, has been using the technology since May and says ten repeat offenders have already been deterred from visiting.
He said: “Police do not have the resources to deal with this, but we must respond vigorously.”