Scots criminal family revealed as Britain's biggest shoplifters

ONE of Scotland's most notorious criminal families was exposed last night as the UK's largest organised shoplifting gang.

Branded as the "biggest and richest" outfit in the UK, members of Glasgow's infamous McGovern gang were caught on camera making off with thousands of pounds worth of goods in less than two minutes.

Known in the criminal underworld as the "McGovernment", the 150-member shoplifting "arm" of the gang was exposed making millions of pounds a year from stolen items.

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Targeting shops around the UK and mainland Europe, BBC Scotland's Millionaire Thieves showed how members of the gang stole over 1,500 worth of stock in under two minutes – raking in 100,000 a day through a series of complex deceptions.

The programme also revealed that, in the same month that justice secretary Kenny MacAskill linked shoplifting to organised crime, the two female leaders of the McGovern gang were fined just 750 for stealing designer goods.

Serious organised crime officers spoke of how gangs such as the McGoverns also followed shop workers and security staff to their homes and into nightclubs, before threatening them with violence if they tried to stop the thieves on the shop floor.

Richard Dodd, from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), said: "We are convinced that shoplifting is linked with funding drug habits and, worse, organised crime.

"What we need is a recognition of the scale of the financial and human cost."

A recent SRC survey revealed that the number of thefts from shops rose by a third in 2009, with an incident occurring nearly every minute, while incidents of violence and abuse against shop staff had doubled.

Police estimate that last year 32,000 shoplifting offences were recorded, but the SRC puts the actual number of shop thefts at well over one million.

Mr Dodd added: "We need punishment to equal the crime.

"Importantly, people who knowingly buy stolen goods are contributing to that financial and human cost and are as bad as those who perpetrate the crime in the first place." The programme's undercover team visited Glasgow's Blochairn market, where it is alleged vast quantities of stolen goods are sold on to members of the public.

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A secret camera recorded one stall selling a Marks and Spencer jacket, with the 69 price tag still on it, for 10.

Another stallholder sold a new Next dress for 4, before admitting the garment was stolen.

The undercover investigator was advised that she could take it back to the shop and pretend it was an unwanted gift to receive a full refund.

The documentary also had a stark message for police and the retail association: in the battle against organised crime the criminals are winning.

A Strathclyde Police spokeswoman said last night: "Organised shoplifting gangs can be responsible for high-value thefts, and it is not unreasonable to consider that the most determined and prolific offenders may have a connection to organised crime gangs."

Across the UK, shoplifting increased by nearly 20 per cent last year, costing retailers almost 5 billion.