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A camera shop in west London has been forced to lock its products up inside a reinforced metal cage following an increase in shoplifting and two ram raids which saw thieves steal around £70,000 of equipment.
Chiswick Camera Centre, which has sold camera equipment for over 50 years in the upmarket suburb, has removed all of its stock from its windows over safety concerns, replacing it with pictures of the products instead.
Vans have ploughed through the shopfront twice and the store has seen a string of robberies, with the owner blaming organised criminal gangs who are increasingly targeting the area.
Andy Sands, 52, who has run the business for 18 years, said the situation currently facing traders is the worst he can remember, with thieves becoming emboldened to target shops since the pandemic.
Speaking to MailOnline, the shop owner slammed the Met Police as ‘useless’ and said their response to the ram raids was slow and fruitless, with all of his stolen stock lost and the perpetrators getting away.
It comes as Britain faces a troubling rise in shoplifting cases, with the number of incidents shooting up by 25 per cent in the last year and London seeing the most offences in the country.
Mr Sands said he has been forced to take matters into his own hands as he aims to make would-be thieves choose easier targets.
His shop, which is off Chiswick High Road, has been plastered with signs warning shoplifters that they are not welcome and explaining that ‘all stock is being held in a secure area due to several recent break-ins’.
The shop was ram-raided twice during lockdown, with the first hit in November 2020 seeing £40,000 worth of stock taken and the second in April 2021 around £30,000, Mr Sands said.
The second time, thieves struck just before the shop was due to reopen after lockdown, knowing it would be filled with stock
They used a stolen van and there was DNA evidence, Mr Sands said, but by the time the CPS decided there was enough to press charges the suspect had ‘fled the country’.
Mr Sands said: ‘I had to do most of the work tracking them down myself, the police are useless.’
On CPS delays he said: ‘I understand it must be frustrating for [the police] too but these thieves are just getting away with it.’
Mr Sands said shoplifting got worse after Covid and has recently become even more of a threat to businesses in Chiswick, with ‘at least half the shops on the road, maybe more’ affected.
He said that shop owners are increasingly of the mindset that they would rather their staff are safe, so tell them not to confront thieves.
‘That’s the whole problem,’ he said, ‘these people know nobody is going to stand up to them.
‘It’s completely ridiculous, you need to challenge these people and call them out.
‘It doesn’t have to be a rugby tackle, it can literally just be shouting “thief!” – anything that makes them feel uncomfortable so they won’t come back.
He said he has chased several thieves out of his shop, running around the block in a bid to make the often teenage robbers’ lives more difficult.
‘I caught one and got my stock back,’ he said. ‘I told him to give the stuff over and he just went “sorry” and gave it back.
‘I was tempted to drag him back to the shop and wait for the police, but they probably wouldn’t arrive until next Tuesday!’
The independent business owner is not alone, with major chains including Iceland, John Lewis and Co-op repeatedly complaining of police failing to attend shoplifting incidents even when security staff have managed to detain the suspect.
Expensive items like cameras, speakers and clothes have been ransacked from the shelves of stores like John Lewis, with CCTV obtained by MailOnline in September showing brazen thieves at work.
Food and drink at supermarkets is also a target, with Co-op boss Paul Gerrard, claiming that thieves were regularly entering stores and attempting to take large quantities of meat, spirits and other high-valued items.
A Freedom of Information request by the Co-op found that the police did not respond to 76 per cent of serious retail crimes reported.
And amid a rising lack of trust in forces, some shops and British high streets have even resorted to hiring ‘private police’, who offer to investigate offences and drag criminals through the courts.
In October, the ONS revealed that there were 365,164 shoplifting cases recorded by police over the 12 months to June 2023.
The dramatic rise in shoplifting offences will come as no surprise to retailers, who have warned the government of the threat posed to their staff by violent offenders and called for the police to take the issue more seriously.
The Met Police said in a statement: ‘Our New Met for London Plan is involving Londoners to give them a say in how their areas are policed. As part of this work we are collaborating with business and retail leads right across London to identify what matters to them, including the safety of shop based workers and shoplifting.
‘While it is not realistic for the Met to respond to every case of shoplifting in London due to demand, where a crime is being committed, a suspect is on the scene, and the situation has or is likely to become heated or violent, our call handlers will assess this and seek to despatch officers where appropriate.
‘A London-wide roll-out of Op Retail, a successful pilot allowing more effective and stream-lined reporting of shoplifting where no offender has been detained or violence occurred, will be taking place in the autumn.
‘We work with retail leads in London and we know first-hand the impact shoplifting and attacks on shop workers is having on individual staff and the wider business community.
‘We understand that staff who are trained to challenge and deescalate may feel obligated to intervene but the safety of those involved is our primary concern.
‘Our advice is to intervene in line with your role and employers’ expectations only where it is safe to do so. If it feels like the situation is getting heated or violent, or someone is in immediate danger please call 999 and stay safe until arrival of police.’
Robert Johnson is a UK-based business writer specializing in finance and entrepreneurship. With an eye for market trends and a keen interest in the corporate world, he offers readers valuable insights into business developments.