SECURITY experts in Newton Abbot believe the real cost of shoplifting is much higher than the 37 per cent increase revealed by figures just released. 

Incidents of theft from shops have shot up ‘dramatically’, according to the Office for National Statistics. 

But Tom Hirst, who manages Newton Abbot Security Trust, says many retailers don’t bother reporting incidents.

He told the Mid Devon Advertiser: ‘In my opinion, the real figure will be higher.

‘Not everything gets reported, often it is too much hassle, particularly for smaller shops.’

In Devon and Cornwall, statistics show reported shoplifting incidents rose to 7,651 last year compared to 5,583 in 2022.

The ongoing cost of living crisis has been blamed for the rise which means shoplifting is at its highest level for 20 years. 

Mr Hirst, who runs a team of security officers in Newton Abbot, says smaller shops do not generally bother to report crimes and deal with issues ‘in-house’.

While the cost of living crisis is undoubtedly part of the problem, Tom says some of the thefts are by organised gangs who travel to the area from Bristol and London solely to carry out shoplifting sprees. 

Tom said: ‘We do have a problem with these groups or gangs who come down here to hit us and these are on the increase.

‘Every one is getting hit, national shops and local ones.

‘With the gangs, it is a matter of greed, like big business, and making money.’

Last week, the NAST team caught a group of three thieves who had £1,750 worth of stolen goods.

National retailers and independents are equally targeted.

Items stolen are both for personal use and to sell on and include toiletries, perfume and make-up.

But Tom says items such as washing powder are regularly stolen, possibly due to the high cost, which are usually down to personal need. 

The NAST team uses the town’s network of CCTV cameras along with individuals on the ground to catch the culprits. 

Their work was featured on the Channel 5 programme Shoplifters Caught Red Handed which, Tom said, had a positive reaction from viewers and shoppers on the street. 

The ONS figures show a persistent upward trend on shoplifting since the pandemic.

Devon and Cornwall Police said it is dealing with the consequences of the ongoing cost of living crisis, reflected by a rise in theft and other acquisitive crime.

A spokesman said: ‘We have seen a rise in shoplifting offences but still have the third lowest rate of any police area in the country for that type of crime.’

Across the wider south west, shoplifting figures rose 43 per cent. 

Earlier this year, Co-op revealed retail crime had hit record levels. 

The company has invested more than £200 million in safety and security, including the latest interactive CCTV, body-worn cameras, fortified kiosks; use of dummy (or empty) packaging to deter bulk-theft and, covert and non-covert guarding.

Retail union Usdaw is ‘deeply concerned’ by the figures showing the ‘significant’ increase in shoplifting offences across the south west.