Two weeks ago, says Jenni Russell in The Times, hundreds of teens turned up to Oxford Street for a planned “looting spree” of JD Sports. Despite the heavy presence of Met Police officers, who’d been tipped off about “widely shared posts” on TikTok, troublemakers had to be fought to the ground with batons and 34 youths were given dispersal orders. Fearing that the UK might be on a path to the “lawlessness” of American cities, the Home Secretary’s response was “furious and fierce”, ordering that the kids responsible be locked up. But she’s guilty of “acute political hypocrisy”. Over the past 13 years, successive Tory governments have effectively “decriminalised most shoplifting”.
In the years since George Osborne’s budget cuts, police haven’t had the officers or resources to deal with low-level crimes. Shoplifting items worth less than £200 is now a “summary offence”, meaning you can pay a £70 fine via post and not attend court. “Theft incidents” from shops have doubled since 2016 to around eight million a year, while the number of thieves charged has collapsed: a decade ago it was more than 80,000 annually; last year it was 21,000. My local grocer is robbed daily of “easily resellable” goods like coffee, confectionary and cleaning products. Bigger firms are targeted by gangs: Space NK is being terrorised by a Romanian ring; Jigsaw says a group that routinely steal clothes sometimes return “just to laugh at staff”. This disorder threatens our “already fragile” high streets and undermines trust within communities. The government must remember that justice and security are not “optional extras”, but “the fundamental duty of a state”.