Ten top British retailers will now PAY cops to stop shoplifters

Retailers will now PAY police to stop shoplifters: Ten of UK’s largest stores will fund £600K ‘Project Pegasus’ to scan faces of thieves on CCTV – as Co-op hires undercover guards amid claims the crime is being ‘decriminalised’

  • Tesco, Sainsbury’s, John Lewis, Waitrose and Next are among those on scheme  

Ten of Britain’s top retailers have agreed to fund a police crackdown on shoplifting gangs – by paying cops to scan faces of thieves using CCTV.  

High street giants including John Lewis, Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Next are among those reportedly pumping £600,000 into the operation, dubbed Project Pegasus. 

In return, police forces will run CCTV images of suspected shoplifters through the national database, which includes the latest facial recognition technology. 

The news comes as it emerged bosses at Co-op had resorted to hiring undercover security guards to protect its stores and staff from thieves – while rival Tesco is getting staff to wear body-cameras to help catch shoppers who assault them. 

Police chiefs have increasingly come under fire for the apparent lack of action in tackling the looting epidemic blighting stores, with the chairman of Asda last week saying the shoplifting had essentially been ‘decriminalised’.

This brazen thief appeared to struggle to get out the Co-op in Lavender Hill, Wandsworth, with his heavy  ruck sack, weighed down by stolen booze 

Ten major retailers are set to pump in £600,000 into a police operation to tackle shoplifting. Pictured: A thief seen in Nottingham

The introduction of Project Pegasus has since been hailed as a ‘game-changer’ by police chiefs, who claim it will give them a national picture of where shoplifting gangs are operating and the stores they are targeting.

READ MORE: ‘I lose £200 a day – they nick anything and the police do nothing’: Shopkeeper who has run his stores for 20 years says he might have to CLOSE his business as it loses more money from thieves stealing his products than it makes every day


Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner who is the national lead for business and retail crime, claimed 20 per cent of offenders account for 80 per cent of shoplifting offences in her county. 

Speaking of Project Pegasus, she told The Times: ‘It’ll be a game-changer for policing because for the first time ever, policing will get a complete picture across the country of where these gangs are hitting different areas and they’ll have that data and intelligence to be able to put that out to local police forces to go after those gangs.’ 

Nationally. the number of shoplifting offences ballooned by a quarter this year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In the 12 months to March, the police recorded 339,206 cases of shoplifting despite the British Retail Consortium estimating there were eight million crimes, which it says costs retailers nearly £1billion annually. 

Only 48,218 incidents of shoplifting reported by the police were charged, 14 per cent, while 183,450 investigations, or 54 per cent, were closed with no suspect being identified, fuelling claims the crime isn’t taken seriously enough by cops.

The situation is so out of control that the Co-op has been forced to hire undercover security guards to protect its stores, reports the Telegraph.

Alongside normal uniformed security guards, the chain last night confirmed it had stepped up the use of ‘covert’ operatives to catch shoplifters red handed.

The undercover staff, supplied by contractor Mitie, are specially trained to confront and hold thieves until police officers arrive.

CCTV footage of a couple who attacked a shop worker in Bristol in another display of violence towards frontline retail staff 

Thieves are targeting stores every two seconds in Britain, figures have shown

Shop are increasingly keeping certain items under lock and key. The idea of locking up products began with wine and spirits before being extended to other high-value items such as steaks, imported cheeses, razor blades and manuka honey

Even Ferrero Rocher boxes have been seen in plastic cases to try and prevent thieves from stealing them 

Despite this, in four-fifths of examples where someone is caught police still do not bother to turn up, the Co-op claimed.

The firm’s new measures to tackle shoplifters came just weeks after Co-op separately revealed it had been forced to resort to ‘dummy’, display-only packaging for products in some stores because so many were being stolen.

READ MORE: Moment shoplifter empties shelf of wine and spirits into bag in daylight Co-Op raid in Lawless London before sneering to staff ‘I’ll be back tomorrow, same time’

Bosses at the retailer claimed that across the UK, the number of crime, shoplifting and anti-social behaviour instances had rocketed 35 per cent year-on-year, withmore than 175,000 incidents recorded in the first six months of 2023.

Yet police forces failed to respond to 71 per cent of serious retail crimes reported, the supermarket chain claimed.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has ordered police to investigate every theft as part of a major crackdown. But the move faced criticism from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, who accused her of meddling in forces’ operational independence.

Speaking of the epidemic blighting the Co-op. Matt Hood, managing director of food, said: ‘The rise in shop looting and retail crime, perpetuated by repeat, prolific offenders and organised criminal gangs is becoming one of the most significant issues facing UK communities.

‘This isn’t a victimless crime, as my store colleagues who have been verbally abused and had knives and syringes pulled on them can vouch for, but it is seemingly a consequence-less crime.

‘The Home Office and NPCC say every crime will be investigated, which are great words, but actions are better and, frankly, yet to be seen, as our stores report serious crimes every single day, but in 71pc of cases, no police turn up.

‘Co-op has invested over £200m to try and keep our colleagues and stores safe, so I am increasingly frustrated by how our efforts are not being matched by those who have the power to enforce consequences.’

The boss of John Lewis today called for a royal commission into Britain’s high streets, which she said risk becoming ‘looting grounds’ for crime.

Charlene Corbin, 28, was bottled by a shoplifter at the Co-Op where she works

Pictured is Ms Corbin’s head wound that she sustained after being bottled by a thief at the store

Dame Sharon White, chairwoman of the John Lewis Partnership, which also owns Waitrose, said some UK towns and cities have become ‘shells of their former selves’, awash with vacant stores. 

Dame Sharon said the UK needs a comprehensive plan to stop organised gangs, and called for Scottish legislation that makes the abuse of a retail worker an offence to be brought in nationwide.

READ MORE: High street shops are turned into fortresses with everyday goods under lock and key amid shoplifting epidemic

‘Only a royal commission can set out a fresh vision for a prosperous high street for decades to come’, she concluded.

Last week saw Asda’s chairman Lord Stuart Rose saying the shoplifting had been ‘decriminalised’ thanks to lack of police action. 

Lord Rose, who was previously the boss of Marks & Spencer, said the authorities have turned their heads away from a shocking wave of crime being battled by frontline shop staff.

He also echoed calls by the boss of Tesco for more to be done to protect workers from attacks and blamed complacent authorities which have ‘allowed’ lawlessness.

‘Theft is a big issue,’ he said speaking to LBC’s Nick Ferrari. ‘It has become decriminalised. It has become minimised… It’s actually just not seen as a crime anymore.’

Police chiefs and retail bosses met with ministers on Thursday to hammer out plans to target shoplifters.

It’s thought the huge surge in shoplifting has been driven by organised crime groups who send out individuals to steal high value items from shops like steaks and booze, which are then sold on to market owners, corner shops and pubs. 

Tesco chief executive Ken Murphy has previously called for the Government and police to help supermarkets to better protect staff from abuse.

Writing in The Mail on Sunday, the boss of the country’s largest supermarket called for English laws to ‘go further’ and make abuse or violence towards retail workers an offence in itself, as in Scotland.

He also called for ‘better links between police forces and businesses’ to both take criminals to task and prevent incidents in the first place, as he pledged to offer a body camera to every frontline Tesco store worker.

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