Linda Colling: No shame over shoplifting

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SO one in six Britons have admitted shoplifting. And it seems Britain is now the shoplifting capital of Europe, with rates rising more than 12 per cent in 2011 alone.

And I bet we can expect more people nicking as fewer people see it as wrong.

Being light-fingered is no longer viewed as shameful. It’s OK if you can get away with it.

For the pros who steal to order, it’s a way of life. And now the recession is firing a new trend of huge amounts of meat being knocked off and pricey cheeses.

“Even people who have not stolen for a long time or have never stolen before, are at it, not because they are protesting against society or capitalism, there’s just a feeling out there that ‘I’ve got to look after myself’,” says Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research, whose book Shopping And Crime will be published in March.

The riots last year showed shoplifting at its extreme but it’s what is happening every day and what added up to £4.4 billion worth of goods estimated stolen from shops in Britain in 2010.

After the bizarre shoplifting by celeb chef Antony Worral Thompson – five times filmed stealing wine and cheese from his local Tesco – a YouGov survey of 1,800 people revealed 16 per cent had confessed to shoplifting and half of those questioned believed shoplifting less serious than other forms of theft.

That’s the shift in society today compared to when honesty and knowing right from wrong was drummed into us from knee-high.

As kids, plenty of us were tempted.

And though I haven’t pinched anything, I know what held so many back was the shame and not just of being caught. One friend will never forget the overwhelming shame she felt, when as a nipper she childlike picked up a chew and pocketted it.

She couldn’t bring herself to eat it and had to confess her guilt to her mother who then promptly took her back to the shop and made her hand her contraband in to the shopkeeper.

Of course, she never did it again. It was a lesson for life and one that is sadly missing today. That’s why when I popped in to my local Co-Op for a half priced gammon joint the shelf was bare. “Where are they all? ” I asked the manager who said they had been completely cleaned out by a fella who coolly walked in, filled a black sack with all the joints and then dragged his swag out of the store. Everyone loves bacon and he’d have no problem flogging the joints. It’s easy to get rid of knocked off gear.

You don’t have to say it’s stolen and even those who suspect it is, are up for a bargain bit of beef, hooch, perfume, razor blades, cosmetics, fashion gear.

That’s why there’s a growing interest in luxury lines of meat and more expensive cheese, such as parmesan, which could be sold on the quiet to restaurants.

I just wonder how brisk a business there is in our pubs for topside or even filet mignon?

And while on the topic of helping yourself in the supermarket, what really gets my goat are the mothers who let their kids gobble whatever takes their fancy as they shop and grown ups too who eat and drink their way round the aisles. No shame you see.

Indeed those who make a living from shoplifting had no reservations in boasting how they do it and how proud they are of themselves in a television documentary Secrets of the Shoplifters which will be shown again tomorrow on Channel 4 at 11.20pm.