Knife crime

Source: GettyImages_Credit BrianAJackson

Dan Brown

Dan Brown, managing director at Lothian Stores Ltd and former president at the Scottish Grocers’ Federation


Imagine a situation where you had multiple different people stealing items from your home, multiple times per day.

When you try to stop the thieves, they become verbally abusive and violent towards you and your family members. They will even threaten you with weapons such as knives, needles and a whole host of other objects. Shouting at you, swearing at you, spitting at you, threatening you. Some households have even had a family member killed because of these thefts.

Your family has a large mix of ages and genders, most of whom find these thefts traumatic and fear for their safety. Some of them are overly confident and put themselves at risk by trying to stop them.

You phone the police each time, however the response time is often several days after each incident – even on occasions where there have been weapons involved. They take down some details but tell you they aren’t all that hopeful that anything will come of it. It’s often not the same person who has stolen the items or the items value is often viewed as “not enough to be viewed as a crime”, even though to you that value accumulates into thousands of pounds per year. The police themselves are under resourced and frustrated by the fact there is very little they can do about it.

This continues for years. You’ll occasionally be invited to court as a witness, spending most of the day in the waiting room to then be told you’re no longer needed. On very rare occasions the thief will receive a small fine that they realistically can’t afford to pay anyway. You see them back in your home later that day stealing goods again.

The authorities suggest the problem lies with your own security, so you invest thousands of pounds per year into upgrading every security measure you can think off – state of the art CCTV, radios, bodycams, electronic tagging. This improves the evidence you provide, however the crimes still go unpunished most of the time.

You provide as much support and resource as you can for the rest of your family, but the reality is the thieves keep coming and no matter what measures you put in place, the situation doesn’t become any less traumatic.

The thieves recognise this and start stealing more frequently. They steal higher value items and become a lot more confident, to the point where they’ll often steal right in front of you, knowing that they’ll either not be confronted at all, or that a simple threat from whatever weapon they are carrying will be enough for them to walk out effortlessly.

People start to recognise these crimes going unpunished and become tempted to start stealing themselves. Times are tough and if there is little to no consequence for taking the items then why not? As a result you start to see people you’ve known for years stealing from you. People you thought would never go down that path.

You and your family feel helpless – the advice from the authorities is not to confront the thieves and if you do you potentially face charges yourself. There are even restrictions introduced that make it difficult sharing CCTV of the thieves to your family members so they know who to look out for.

When the general public hear about the thefts they often think you’re being dramatic. They tell you that nobody suffers, that you can afford it (and in a lot of cases they even say you deserve it). The thefts are viewed as a victimless crime and are treated as such.

Due to the time it takes to report the crimes and the lack of consequences that arise from them, you question whether it’s even worth reporting them. But then you see the authorities publishing crime figures, taking great delight in announcing that the rate of thefts are down. They think if the thefts are down then why not take more resource away? In reality you know that the rate has in fact never been higher, with households across the country being victim to the exact same growing issues.

With thefts continuing to increase, you finally get to the stage where you can’t afford to keep going. You must sell your home. Your family get split up. None of you know where to go from there. You can’t believe that this has been allowed to happen – that regular, violent and costly crimes have simply been disregarded. That those with the power to help you have simply sat back and watched you lose everything.

Not a pleasant thought is it? It would be terrible if something like this was allowed to go on wouldn’t it?

Well the reality is shops around the country are facing this every day. From small community stores, to larger convenience stores and supermarkets. The colleagues working there are all mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, grans, grandads, aunts and uncles. They all have people who care about them and worry about the fact that they are facing these situations. They aren’t the brand that they work for, they are human beings.

Their teams care about them, their companies care about them; but the reality is that our country’s justice system has given up on them.

Drastic change is required. Shoplifting has essentially been decriminalised and is severely threatening the safety of the millions of shopworkers across the UK.

We need to raise awareness of the impact shoplifting has – it’s not just little kids stealing sweets. It’s developed into violent attacks and even deaths. The losses are adding up. The casualties are adding up. It’s time for the Police, Local Authorities, Councillors, Procurator Fiscal, The Government to all step up. Stop publishing false crime figures. Accept there is a problem. Take action to deal with it.

This is the reality myself and my team face every single day. And it’s the same across the country. I wish I could help my fellow retailers more. At this stage all we can do is remain vigilant in reporting and continue to highlight the problem.

Retailers provide more than just groceries for their local communities. They provide jobs, they provide essential services, they invest in their local communities, they invest in local charities. They help people. They provide a friendly face to those who are living alone. There’s a whole host of things they do that not everybody sees.

Without them, all of this goes away. Without drastic change retailing as we know it will simply not survive. I hope that we get the support we need before it’s too late.