ON the crime-ravaged streets of Britain's shoplifting capital, beleaguered business owners no longer turn to the police for help.

In Cleveland, where shop theft is skyrocketing along with the rest of Britain, offenders are "dealt with round the back" and swift summary justice can be acquired for as little as £1 a day.

None of this, of course, involves the police, who traders tell us they no longer trust to protect their businesses from an "out of control" crimewave.

In Parliament Rd, central Middlesbrough, two shop owners admitted to The Sun that they are paying for "private protection" from the same local hard man, because shoplifters now feel they are beyond the reach of the law.

The owner of an electrical store said: "I pay £37 a month for an alarm that is monitored by the police and I pay £30 a month to a bloke who is well-known in the neighbourhood – and he's the one that gives value for money.

"He's a guy that people don't want to cross and he came to me to say that for £1 a day he would look after my business. It's not something I decided lightly, but I agreed.

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"I've seen thefts drop ever since because he's made it known he's looking after me.

"I don't know what he does and I don't really care as long as it's effective. Unfortunately the police just can't help us any more and everybody knows it."

Over the last five years, Cleveland tops the table as the area with the most number of shoplifting crimes in the UK per 1,000 people, MailOnline reports.

Between 2018 and 2023, there were 32,378 reports of shoplifting in the region – working out at 56.80 crimes per 1,000 in population.

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Cleveland tops the table as the area with the most number of shoplifting crimes in the UKCredit: Simon Ashton
Shop keepers claim they are turning to local hard men instead of policeCredit: Simon Ashton

Street justice

Further down Parliament Road, Ray Smith, 64, says "old fashioned" methods of enforcing order are the only kind that make a difference.

Ray works at Everything Go's, a discount furniture store whose name has an ironic ring in this theft-plagued neighbourhood.

He said: "They'll nick anything and it's a daily battle to keep them out of your shop.

"I work in a furniture shop so we're obviously not as badly affected as the places selling phones and electricals and booze.

"Mind you, I did see a guy pull up in a taxi and take a small wardrobe from outside the shop, put it in his boot and drive away with it.

"I had to go to the taxi company and tell them we'd seen the whole thing on CCTV and I wanted it back. People will literally take anything.

"This used to be a street full of local businesses but now it has every nationality under the sun and they seem better at dealing with shoplifters than we are.

"The shops owned by the Kurds and Romanians don't get any trouble because the thieves know if they get caught no one will be calling the police.

"They get taken round the back of the shop and dealt with in the old fashioned way. It seems to be effective because those businesses don't lose much stock."

Ray believes that police are "no deterrent" in the area – and that this makes the thieves even more brazen, knowing they are not going to be caught.

"They will come into the shop with a bag of steaks they've nicked from Tesco trying to sell them on for whatever they can get," he says.

"Then once they have their money they'll congregate under the CCTV camera and hang around until the house that sells all the pills opens for business at the far end of the street.

"It's a daily cycle we see week in week out, it never stops and I doubt that it ever will."

No respect for law

Father-of-three Parvez Akhtar, 53, has run Fix A Fone on Parliament Road for seven years and found the move from his native country to be a baptism on fire.

He said: "I came to Middlesbrough from Pakistan, which people describe as a third world country. When I arrived here I quickly discovered that it is worse.

"There seemed to be no respect for the law and certainly no fear of the law, the criminals were doing whatever they liked and the police seemed to be completely unable to catch anyone.

"In the first three years of business I was broken into seven times, so less than once every six months.

"It's a busy main road but they were breaking in through the roof as soon as the shop was shut. I couldn't believe how bare-faced they were about it.

"I found the best way was to erect razor wire and raise the height of my counter to stop them leaping over it.

"That helped but they're still operating and costing me thousands. I had someone manage to grab a phone from a shelf and get out of the door before we could lock it.

"Then that same person caught me as I was leaving and tried to sell the same phone back to me. I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

I had someone manage to grab a phone from a shelf. That same person caught me as I was leaving and tried to sell the same phone back to me

"There are cameras everywhere along the street but no one ever seems to get caught and reporting matters to the police almost seems pointless.

"All you can do is put in as many security measures as possible and hope for the best."

Shoplifting capital

All of Cleveland's four main towns – Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar and Hartlepool – are afflicted with the shoplifting malaise, even more than the rest of Britain where it is on the rise.

Nationally the British Retail Consortium estimates thieves are costing an eye-watering £1billion a year.

Cleveland's own shoplifting hotspot is the Rift House area of Hartlepool.

The most recent available figures show that retailers in the Rift House and Summerhill neighbourhood of the town are most at risk from light-fingered customers.

In 2021 there were 101 shoplifting crimes recorded by police in that ward, which is the equivalent of around 20 crimes for every shop – the highest rate in the whole of England and Wales.

The parade of shops on Rift House's Catcote Road is fighting a daily battle with the thieves.

At the Spar they're forced to put out empty butter tubs to foil the thieves. Customers have to ask the cashiers to bring a full one from behind the counter when they pay.

The store pays for a Facewatch system which recognises offenders from their police mugshots and alerts staff.

A shop assistant said the thieves quickly "got wise" and started wearing masks and peaked caps pulled low to disguise their features.

At Bungalow Stores, Prabaker Paramatathan, 40 has just paid £6,000 for a state of the art camera system, which displays every inch of his small shop in a giant screen in the centre of the aisles.

He said: "It was necessary because the shoplifting is a daily occurrence and I'm losing staff as well as stock.

"They will buy some cheap item and then when it's being rung through the till will lean over the counter and grab a £40 bottle of vodka and run.

"They're prepared to fight if you stop them and that's not what my staff come to work to do. It is frightening and stressful for them and I understand that.

"These are people coming to work for the day, none of us want to be fighting with shoplifters but it's become part of our lives.

"It's getting worse here and I think part of the problem is that they know they will not get caught. It is very, very rare for anyone to be prosecuted after they have stolen from us.

"A man smashed our front window to gain entry and steal and we caught him on CCTV, it was a clear image and everyone knew who it was, but somehow it wasn't enough.

"It is costing the business thousands and thousands and there seems little we can do to stop it."

Egg bandit

Matthew Hunt, 31, laughs despite himself when asked whether shoplifters steak from his fruit and veg shop.

"Eight o'clock this morning, you should have seen it," he says, shaking his head at the recent memory.

"We've literally just had the shop's egg delivery made from the back of the lorry and they were stacked up waiting to go inside.

"A bloke pulled up on a bike and grabbed the top tray and then jumped back on his bike with it across his handlebars.

"All we could do was watch him weave off along the road with 160 eggs balancing on the front of his bike.

"It seems comical until you think what it means for a business like this with four staff. That's us starting the day with a £50 deficit that we can't account for.

"That guy will cycle onto one of the estate and sell those eggs for a tenner, probably to buy drugs.

"But for the decent people who turn up to work in here every day it's a problem because we have to hope we can make that money up as the day goes on.

"It's out of control and there are so few police in this town that the idea of anyone getting arrested for it is almost a joke."

They're prepared to fight if you stop them and that's not what my staff come to work to do

Cleveland Police accepted shoplifting is rising in the area, citing social and economic changes across the UK, but says its 22.8 per cent detection rate beats the national average.

Chief Inspector Pete Littlewood, the force’s operational lead on retail crime, said: “Whilst shoplifting has increased in Cleveland, the picture is the same across the country and most likely a reflection of the impact of national social and economic changes.

"Cleveland’s charge and detection rate for shoplifting is above the
national average, with 22.8% of reports ending in a charge to court,
which is higher than the national average.

"Whilst much work remains to be done in dealing with the issue of
retail crime, those figures are testament to the work Cleveland Police
Officers do to tackle the problem.


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“Efforts are also made to arrest the top five shoplifters each week, and teams regularly carry out problem solving work to prevent reoffending by making applications for Criminal Behaviour Orders.

"The Neighbourhood teams take part in regular weeks of action to target retail crime, with a visible policing presence in shopping centres and engagement activity with both retailers and shoppers."

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