Armed shoplifting in London nearly doubles

Last year there were 874 recorded instances of shoplifting involving weapons, up from 456 in 2015 before Sadiq Khan took office, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

A Met Police officer and (inset) a corner shop

Armed shoplifting in London was 91% higher last year compared with the period just before Sadiq Khan took office, data reveals.

Met Police statistics released to Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Rob Blackie through a Freedom of Information request showed that shoplifting in general was 34% higher in 2023 than 2015.

The Labour mayor defended his record by arguing that the cost of living crisis has fuelled a rise in “acquisitive crime” across the country, and that Government austerity has meant he is tackling crime “with one hand tied behind” his back.

In 2015, the last full year before Khan took over from Boris Johnson, there were some 456 recorded instances of shoplifting which involved the use of weapons or tools. The number rose in Khan’s first years in office, reaching 844 recorded offences in 2018.

The figure went down dramatically in the pandemic, but has since rebounded to hit 874 offences in 2023.

A similar pattern can be seen with shoplifting overall in London, as 47,759 offences were recorded in 2015, compared with 57,414 offences in 2023.

Blackie said: “Shoplifting is now at epidemic levels in London and the trend in the use of weapons is deeply worrying. This is not a ‘victimless crime’ – especially for retail staff who are being threatened and local businesses which are suffering huge damage.

“Despite this, the police attend less than half of all shoplifting incidents in London. This leads many people to feel like it has been virtually decriminalised and emboldens criminals who think they won’t get caught. We need a mayor who will get a grip on this.

“Londoners feel the effect of the lack of police on our streets and the chaos surrounding the culture in the Metropolitan Police. That’s why I’ve pledged to reallocate the money from Sadiq Khan’s Tube fare freeze towards policing where it’s needed most.

“With this money, we can get almost 500 more police on the streets for the next four years and make up the shortfall in the Met Police’s Turnaround Plan.”

Asked about the increase in shoplifting, Khan referred back to a speech he gave in March, in which he highlighted research by the London School of Economics into how rising living costs have fuelled increases in some crimes.

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He said: “The LSE did some work in relation to the increase in the cost of living, and the increase in acquisitive crime.

“One of the things they explained was shoplifting, burglary, robbery and theft went up because of the increase in cost of living.

“We’re supporting those shops in relation to the safer neighborhood teams going to shops to support them, we’re working with shops in relation to prosecutions and you’re seeing across the country a big increase in shoplifting… not just [in] London.”

According to the Office for National Statistics, shoplifting has increased 29% across England and Wales, when comparing 2015 with 2023 – a few percentage points lower than in London’s 34% rise.

City Hall Lib Dems pointed out last year that the police have been attending fewer than half of shoplifting calls in London since at least 2018.

Asked if this was acceptable, the mayor said: “You’re seeing a big increase in relation to the response from the police.

“Under the previous commissioner, very few burglaries and shopliftings were being responded to by the police. That’s increased hugely.”

Between April and September 2023, police attended 44% of calls. This compares with 43% in the pre-pandemic years of 2018/19 and 2019/20, under the previous commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick.

In the post-pandemic period just after Dame Cressida’s departure as commissioner, between April 2022 and March 2023, the figure hit a recent low of 38%. The current commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, took office in the middle of that period, in September 2022.

Khan added: “Clearly the more resources the police have, the more they can respond. We now have across London every borough with a superintendent in charge of the borough.

“Every borough has a police station open 24 hours a day, and every ward [a small part of a borough] has two dedicated ward officers and a PCSO [police community support officer] as well. Just imagine what more we could do with a Labour government.”

Sources close to Mr Khan have previously argued he is tackling crime “with one hand tied behind his back, in the face of over £1billion of Tory austerity cuts to cops and youth services”, while adding that he “would welcome the Lib Dems joining him in making the case for the Government to properly fund our police”.

The London mayoral election is on Thursday, 2nd May, along with elections to the London Assembly.

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