Home secretary Priti Patel has slammed police forces for not doing enough to protect shop owners from thefts at cash and carries.

Patel met with the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD), wholesalers and local MP Ian Duncan Smith at Costco’s Chingford branch in Essex on 11 June to address wholesaler concerns.

The FWD said the home secretary told attendees: “I grew up in the retail world and I’ve seen the effect of having your stock stolen. Theft of high value products like tobacco can decimate a business. They can destroy cash flow and the goodwill of the business as well.

“The police have to do more. They have to come down to wholesale outlets and work with wholesalers to make sure gangs are absolutely not preying on their customers.

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“It’s important not only that we highlight the whole issue of wholesale crime, but actually that we work with police to ensure they work with wholesalers and retailers to stop this level of crime taking place.”

Patel said she will be telling borough commanders that: “It’s not good enough and we need police action. If they don’t so something about it, they will answer to me.”

The FWD said while overall incidents had decreased last year, the use of ‘violence and intimidation’ by criminals stealing cash, tobacco or other stock at depots was a growing concern.

Wholesalers have invested in CCTV, number plate recognition cameras and security patrols to protect their customers and colleagues. Posters and flyers in cash and carry depots warn visitors not to leave stock or personal belongings unattended in their vehicles.

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The meeting followed recent reports of store owners being targeted in Scotland. Messages seen by betterRetailing claimed at least three store owners were targeted at Batley’s Edinburgh and Cambuslang branches. Two customers are alleged to have had goods stolen from their vehicles at the Edinburgh site.

In Cambuslang it was claimed a retailer was followed from another cash and carry before being robbed at the Batley’s site at around mid-day on 8 June. More than £1,380 of tobacco stock and £6,000 of cash were said to have been stolen by a gang using a silver seven-seat people carrier.

The incidents sparked anger from retailers. NFRN Scottish president Ferhan Ashiq said: “Greater effort needs to be taken to protect us including measures like automatic license plate recognition and car park barriers. We know it can never be prevented 100% of the time but we need to see that the right steps are being taken.”

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Addressing the recent incidents, Bestway Wholesale managing director Dawood Pervez told betterRetailing:  “We can confirm we are aware of these two incidents, as are the FWD who has a security group of which we are members.

“The FWD is organising a session with the home secretary to raise the fact that even though all crimes are registered, it’s a regrettable fact that on many occasions, the local police simply do not have the necessary resources to respond. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) rarely works as the number plates are always fake or stolen. 

“Sadly, this is an industry-wide issue and doesn’t only happen at our store locations. We fully support the need to raise the profile of these incidents and provide help and guidance to our retailers by offering them advice on security.”

Speaking after the meeting, FWD chief executive James Bielby told betterRetailing: “Today we told the home secretary that criminals who target retailers have no fear being caught and prosecuted. Police response to thefts and robberies from customers in cash and carry car parks has been appalling. In many cases, officers have refused to even attend incidents, let alone investigate them.

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“This is not shoplifting, it is organised crime, and it’s an issue for all cash and carry operators equally. A single tobacco theft can cost a small independent shop thousands of pounds. Increasingly, the criminals will use or threaten violence. Where wholesalers have put in security measures to protect their customers, the criminals have followed vehicles off the premises and attacked them in transit. 

“It’s not right that small shop owners should be put at physical or financial risk because the police ignore these thefts and robberies. We have asked the Home Secretary to urgently instruct police forces to give greater priority to apprehending and prosecuting the criminals who do this.

“Retailers can do a lot to protect themselves and their stock by ensuring they don’t leave their vehicle unattended while shopping. Most incidents could be avoided with simple measures like locking your vehicle and not leaving cash or belongings on display. Depot staff are always on hand to help them transfer their purchases to their van and help them load. We also recommend that retailers leaving the C&C keep an eye out for vehicles following them, and call the police immediately if they suspect they are being followed.”

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