Warnings over the sophistication of organised crime gangs operating across the country were issued by a senior police officer at a Justice and Home Affairs Committee meeting.

Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Taylor is head of Opal at the National Police Chiefs’ Council. 

In the evidence session, Taylor shared the advanced tactics employed by criminals and the noticeable shift from ‘traditional’ shoplifting.

He said: “From an organised crime point of view it’s really important to understand that when we manage organised crime, we rely on information and intelligence. And when we’re only seeing a small element of the picture, then we’re not seeing the bigger picture around organised crime and that is crucial for us to identify organised crime gangs. 

“What we’ve seen over the past years is that there’s a degree in sophistication in the committing of the offences.”

Taylor also mentioned that Opal has seen an increase in foreign criminals traveling to the UK purely to commit retail crime: “Some of them are going here and back in a day on a very cheap flight and very little chance of being captured and may not be subject to the criminal justice system previously, so fingerprints and DNA may not be on our systems. So, we have seen a real shift. Not only that, we’ve seen a change in the type of offending…that kind of criminality and violence involved in it as well. The phenomenon of steaming offenses of large groups of individuals going into high-tech shops on mass and just ripping high-tech property out of walls and out of desks. 

“There is a real change in the MO [mode of operating] of traditionally what you imagine someone just walking in and covertly secreting something upon themselves”.

The session also highlighted the role of social media in the issue. 

Taylor stated that recent events on TikTok displayed offenders organising to go to a particular store to “rob it”, which he said is a “very quick way of spreading a message very efficiently”.

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In addition, a recent trend on TikTok also involved a group of ‘pranksters’ called Pattern Up who targeted stores in London and put up fake shoplifting posters to encourage theft. 

All posters have since been removed from the stores, but the posts still remain on TikTok. 

Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman, acquisitive crime lead at National Police Chiefs’ Council, and Katy Bourne OBE Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners lead for Business and Retail Crime, also provided evidence to the Committee during a short inquiry into shoplifting.

The session highlighted the roles that Opal and Project Pegasus play in combatting retail crime. 

Opal is the national intelligence unit focused on serious organised acquisitive crime where there is a series of offences impacting two or more police force areas, including Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Project Pegasus was introduced in October 2023 and is a business and policing partnership initiative designed to improve the way retailers can share intelligence with the police. 

It aims to better understand the tactics employed by organised retail crime gangs and identify offenders. 

The initiative is supported by the Home Office and 14 major retailers, including the Co-op and Tesco, who have pledged funding to help set up the scheme.