Surrey has reported a 29 per cent increase in shoplifting in the 12 months leading to September 2023 according to shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw.

But it comes as no surprise to Farnham traders, who have long suffered the scourge of petty thieves in the town centre.

Alongside big brands such as Boots and Sainsbury’s, a number of independent shops are being targeted.

The Herald spoke to local shop owners and managers about the surge in shoplifting offences. 

Liz Farnley the owner of Sweet Lizzy sweet shop in Downing Street said the situation has always been bad but now it’s “rife”.

Ms Farnley said: “There’s a lot of theft from people that you would not expect and the sad thing is that we have to suspect everybody and it’s horrible because you look at people and you think they could be stealing.

“We could do with having a person that’s responsible for nominating the police and that could be more efficient.”

A clothing shop manager who asked not to be named said the same shops are always targeted and it’s hard to stop thieves. 

She said: “We get hit quite a lot especially at the front of the store, and when it’s busy we don’t always have enough staff to keep a lookout. A lot of shoplifters are repeat offenders and it’s common to get people coming from Alton and Aldershot.”

Elphicks department store is another common target for thieves, and operations manager Liz Flanagan said: “I attended a police event at the Maltings and spoke up about the struggles that Elphicks and Farnham in general had been experiencing.

“After this event, Surrey Police and local Police Community Support Officers responded by carrying out a training session in early December to help our staff protect themselves, how to spot shoplifters and how to report the incidents effectively.

“Our staff found this useful and as a company we have increased the presence of our security guard, added additional CCTV measures and now report, although time consuming, incidents that occur.

“It is important that retailers take control of the reporting as otherwise the police are unaware of the problem everyone is facing.

“We receive numerous articles from Retail Week of how others are dealing with the issues and try to follow some of their examples.”

Police recorded crime statistics for England and Wales showing that in the 12 months to September 2023 there was a 32 per cent increase in shoplifting. This continues the trend of persistent quarterly increases after a decrease during the pandemic.

Surrey Police says it has rolled out a new approach to tackle the scourge of shoplifting in the county, including flooding “hotspots” with more uniformed and plain-clothed officers.

The new force approach to combating shoplifting includes:

  • Uniformed patrols at shoplifting hotspots
  • Deployment of plain clothes officers to hotspots
  • The review of all new and recent shoplifting offences
  • Mobilising large numbers of officers and staff across all departments to match demand
  • Engaging with shop owners/workers to share security advice and gather evidence
  • Increased intelligence work to identify trends, patterns and prolific offenders
  • Engaging with previous offenders to support them to stay off the path of criminality

 A Surrey Police spokesperson said: “A one-day operation was carried out on December 12 with the specific objective of tackling shoplifting.

“This resulted in 20 arrests, eight people being charged with 23 offences, visits to 135 commercial premises to offer security advice and engaging with 12 previous offenders to help support them in staying away from criminality.

“A new national action plan was launched in October 2023, including a commitment to increase police attendance and pursue more evidence.

“A first-of-its-kind national partnership, ‘Pegasus’, has been jointly funded by Government and retailers including John Lewis, Co-op, and Primark, to set out further measures to tackle the rise in shoplifting, catch more prolific offenders and keep retail workers safe.”

Michelle Monaghan