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Project Pegasus: John Lewis and Next among those joining crackdown on shoplifting

By Rachel Douglass


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Victoria Quarter, Victoria St, Leeds, UK. Credits: Unsplash.

As the UK continues to battle on through its cost-of-living crisis, an increasingly prominent offset of the financial crunch has become front of mind for many retailers in the region.

Shoplifting and retail theft is up 27 percent across 10 of the largest cities in the UK, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which had been calling on local governments to ensure retail crime was a clear priority in local policing strategies.

Now, in a further effort to avoid this number getting any higher, 10 of Britain’s largest retailers have agreed to fund a new initiative that would allow police to scan the faces of thieves using CCTV.

Dubbed ‘Project Pegasus’, those involved are understood to have offered up 600,000 pounds to support the operation, which would then allow police to run CCTV imagery of suspected shoplifters through a national database using facial recognition technology.

Among those believed to be supporting the project are John Lewis, Next, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, each of which have already been individually upping their armour to tackle such crime.

John Lewis, for example, began offering free coffees and hot drinks to on-duty police officers in its stores, while Tesco had set about supplying staff with body-cameras to help catch shoppers assaulting them.

High streets risk becoming a ‘looting ground’

Speaking to The Times, Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and crime commissioner, said of the new project: “It'll be a game-changer for policing because for the first time ever, policing will get a complete picture across the country of where these gangs are hitting different areas and they'll have that data and intelligence to be able to put that out to local police forces to go after those gangs.”

Police had been facing an increased level of criticism over the past year as figures regarding shoplifting and in-store violence had heightened following the pandemic, with the BRC reporting that in the 12 months to March there were eight million crimes, costing retailers around one billion pounds annually.

In addition to this, the organisation said that just 48,218 of the reported incidents – 14 percent – had been charged, while 54 percent had been closed with no identified suspect.

While Home Secretary Suella Braverman had ordered police to investigate every theft earlier this year, the issue was still touched on in a statement published today from chairman of John Lewis Partnership, Sharon White, who said that while high streets had been representative of the spirit of local communities, they risked “becoming a looting ground for emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs”.

White added: “Retailers are trying to do their part to keep customers and their staff safe, introducing bodycams, stepping up security and increasing CCTV. The recent supportive words from the police and Home Secretary – that no crime is trivial and promising to pursue all crimes – are very welcome.

“We need a comprehensive plan to stop organised gangs who have a licence to steal. I want to see Scottish legislation that makes the abuse of or attack on a retail worker an offence brought in UK-wide.”

John Lewis
retail crime