Inside a menswear boutique in an affluent west London neighbourhood, shoppers admire madras shirts and slim-cut jeans under the watchful gaze of the manager.
LA Menswear, just off Chiswick High Road, is one of several businesses that have been targeted by thieves in recent weeks. Independent stores and chain brands have been hit by a wave of pickpocketing, burglary and shoplifters.
Whistles, the women’s contemporary fashion brand, recently posted a sign in its window alerting customers that it was open but “operating a locked door policy”.
However, it is understood the brand does not operate a specific closed door policy in line with theft management.
The community of shopowners described being vigilant over a small number of well-known drug addicts who have stalked their outlets intent on stealing. In the face of this rising crime, they have united to end a spate of shoplifting which they said has “ramped up” since the start of the summer.
Maverick and Wolf, an opticians on the same road, had locked its main door after an “increase in theft and threatening behaviour towards our team . . . Our team will open the door for you, and the door will be locked behind you. The safety of yourself and your team is our number one priority”.
It was claimed that thieves targeted it twice in two days, making off with several pairs of designer sunglasses and frames.
Maverick and Wolf have been contacted for comment.
Henrik Johnson, the manager of LA Menswear, told The Times: “It’s not mega-organised criminals or Tik Tok-inspired — it’s a few individuals who have stolen items from a rail outside the shop. They’ll take two hangers and leg it down the road. [The stolen items] are easy to convert into cash at the pub.”
He continued: “We’ve been here 32 years and it’s a really nice place to trade but we’re on our guard; we’ve got CCTV, smoke machines and panic buttons installed.”
Johnson produced a CCTV image that purportedly showed a man attempting to steal a £190 jacket. Did he catch the alleged shoplifter?
“Yes, and he even apologised as he rolled around after a worker from a nearby shop floored him. We have a good network of business owners around here and we all look out for each other.”
It’s a view shared by Oz Poole, the co-owner of Damsel, a womenswear boutique a few doors down on Turnham Green Terrace.
She said: “Everyone is very supportive. Touch wood we’ve been OK but if I’m on my own I’ll keep the door locked. Our customers have been really understanding.”
Poole continued: “We’ve had jewellery stolen. We don’t have product that typically people can resell for a lot, and that works in our favour. So far no one has threatened or intimidated us… but we’re always super aware.”
Kambiz Hendessi, the owner of Lizard Fashion on Turnham Green Terrace, a womenswear shop, said dresses costing up to £300 have been stolen on at least three occasions.
He, like Poole, said the police presence isn’t always obvious. Poole added: “Something is being talked about but where are the police? There used to be a couple of PCSOs walking around but I don’t see them any more.”
However Johnson said he has a “good relationship with the local police and a liaison officer comes in once a week”.
Before the pandemic, Hendessi said shopowners had access to walkie talkies, enabling them to flag concerns and draw attention to suspected shoplifters.
“A policewoman was on the road listening to these messages and would follow it up. It was immensely helpful and almost eradicated the problem. However, it has started again,” he said.
The British Retail Consortium said shoplifting has risen 27 per cent over the past year in the UK’s ten largest cities, costing retailers almost £1 billion in the year to March 2022.
Andrew Goodacre, the chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said: “We have heard of examples where a small gang has ‘hit’ a place, almost stealing to order. It is not dissimilar to the county line issue for drugs. For the small retailers this level of crime can remove all their profits. Many have invested in CCTV but security guards are out of the question.
“Criminals need to know that the punishment suits the crime. Retailers in general are frustrated at what they see as slow response times and a lack of punishment for the perpetrators. We hear that the [policing] minister and police and crime commissioners take it seriously — but all too often actions are not matching the words.”
The Metropolitan Police said: “We understand shoplifting is a ward priority in Chiswick and we are striving to tackle this for businesses and local residents. Safer Neighbourhoods Teams, right across west London, regularly conduct proactive and reactive patrols along with many pre planned operations.
“Chiswick Safer Neighbourhoods Team are working hard to keep retailers and the public safe when visiting the area. Dedicated ward officers are engaging with local retailers to raise awareness on retail-related crime, providing crime prevention advice and encouraging crime reporting so offenders are identified and brought to justice.”
(Source: The Times)