Shoplifting gangs operating on ‘industrial scale’

The Crown Office has said organised crime groups are using a 'steal to order' shoplifting scheme to fund illegal activity. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The Crown Office has said organised crime groups are using a 'steal to order' shoplifting scheme to fund illegal activity. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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PROSECUTORS have vowed to smash serious organised crime groups who are using “steal to order” shoplifting to fund their illegal activities.

The Crown Office said shoplifting was happening on an “industrial scale”, with some groups travelling from overseas to target Scottish retailers.

More than 200 people have now been identified as being involved in what prosecutors called “professional shoplifting”.

The details emerged as the Crown Office published figures showing £8.6 million has been seized in 2014/15 under the Proceeds of Crime Act (Poca).

The money includes assets seized from the gangs, as well as from brothel keepers, money launderers, and drug dealers.

Solicitor General Lesley Thomson said specialist prosecutors had worked closely with a dedicated police inquiry team during the past year to dismantle shoplifting groups, who specialise in targeting expensive clothing and designer handbags.

Ms Thomson said: “The message to those who commit professional shoplifting could not be clearer: the Crown and the police know who you are and we are ensuring that retailers and customers are protected to the fullest extent of the law by using the latest technology to disrupt your activity.

“We are learning more and more about their tactics and are adapting to disrupt them. We not only pursue convictions, but also their assets, with the aim of depriving them of the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.”

An alert system has now been set up to allow the authorities to monitor the activities of the shoplifters, improving the co-ordination of the investigation and prosecution of cases.

David Martin, part of the Scottish Government’s Serious Organised Crime Taskforce, said: “It is only by working together that we can outsmart serious organised crime.

“Systems like the shoplifting alert can help police and prosecutors to protect businesses and the public from organised shoplifting, but we all have a powerful role to play.

“I would urge the public to report anything they see which is suspicious, and ensure they don’t help fund serious organised crime by buying goods which don’t come from a legitimate source.”

More than £4m was recovered through the courts from illegal profits in 2014/15, with a further £4.6m coming from assets seized using civil recovery measures.

The figures include a confiscation of almost £500,000 made against Caroline Laing, 57, the book-keeper accomplice of £11.6m tax fraudster Michael Voudouri.

And they include a confiscation order made for £92,000 against Jason Fletcher, a former flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force who defrauded the Ministry of Defence with fake invoices for radio licences while serving in Afghanistan.