People in the Scottish Highlands are shoplifting foodstuffs to feed themselves, a senior police officer has said.
Latest crime figures reveal a sharp rise in thefts of basic foodstuffs.
Chief superintendent Julian Innes, Police Scotland’s area commander, Highlands and Islands, said this type of shoplifting had not been seen before in the region.
Crime levels overall in the division rose 3 per cent in the first quarter of this year.
The 304 shoplifting cases were involved in the first rise in the crime since 2010-11. Recorded incidents of shoplifting had been declining since then to their lowest level in five years last year.
Ch Supt Innes said: “Shoplifting has seen a spike this year. We’ve seen more shoplifters than ever in the Highlands and our view is that people are stealing to feed themselves.
“The evidence that makes us believe that is what things people are stealing.
“People have always stolen from shops but we have been seeing an increase in people stealing foodstuffs.”
John Finnie, Independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: “The police service works in our communities. They understand our communities.
“When we have a senior figure like chief superintendent Julian Innes, who is well respected, very, very clearly laying out that people are stealing foodstuffs to sustain their living, then that’s a shocking state of affairs.
“Of course there have always been thefts, and no-one is condoning theft for one second, but in the past it has been thefts of luxury items.
“These are people who are hard-pressed. People who are in dire straits.”
Ewan Gurr, Trussell Trust Scotland network manager, said people in the remote areas faced extra financial difficulties.
“The financial pressure people experience has increased significantly in recent years and we have heard from some faced with the stark choice between stealing and starvation.
“From a purely empirical perspective, fuel poverty figures and the cost of living in the Highland local authority area is higher than anywhere else in Scotland.
“It is unsurprising that accounts of theft are emerging from an area where making ends meet is extremely hard.”