CCTV to protect Plymouth charity shops after surge in shoplifting
CALLOUS thieves have been accused of "stealing from the dying" after a surge in shoplifting at charity shops.
New CCTV cameras have been installed on Mutley Plain as part of a crackdown against the conscience-free crooks.
Charity shop chiefs told The Herald how petty thieves would target their stores on an almost daily basis, making off with everything from second-hand shoes to designer handbags.
Police have vowed to clamp down on the culprits, who they say are taking advantage of the often elderly volunteers who work behind the tills.
Officers are urging stores to report all thefts – however low-value the items – so they can assess the full scale of the problem. Sharon Hart, of Mutley's Cancer Research UK charity shop, said she regularly caught shoplifters red-handed.
The former store detective said she was "gobsmacked" to discover how many goods went missing when she took over as manager last year.
"I've caught lots of them," Sharon said. "I've got a good eye and you see them at it; very sly, very devious.
"When I first came here I couldn't believe that people could come into a charity shop and steal. I was quite shocked at how much it went on. I was gobsmacked, absolutely taken aback.
"Items go missing and we find hangers every day missing their clothes.
"These aren't spontaneous thefts, either. These people know exactly what they're doing."
Sharon pointed to one incident where a window display of designer handbags was snatched from behind metal bars, depriving the charity of more than £500.
Other light-fingered 'customers' have been spotted swapping their worn shoes for a pair on sale, then simply walking out.
"If you can steal from a charity shop then you can steal from anywhere," said Sharon. "To me, it's like stealing from the dead or the dying."
The 49-year-old, whose daughter battled cancer, added: "Every penny we make goes into cancer research, so when you shoplift from here you're not stealing from me, or a company, you're stealing from people who have got cancer – and cancer can affect a young baby, someone in their 90s, anyone."
Marie Young, manager at the Devon Air Ambulance charity shop on Mutley Plain, also backed the security crackdown.
"We get incidents here all the time," she said. "People who steal from here don't look at it as a charity shop, they just see something and think, 'I want that'."
Local PCSO Kirsty Down said the problem was not confined to the dozen or so charity shops on Mutley Plain.
But one prolific shoplifter in the area was last week slapped with a strict ASBO banning him from every charity shop in the city.
PCSO Down said theft rates appeared to have been rising for years as people pilfer "anything they can get their hands on", including donation bags left outside.
"It seems to be anything within grabbing distance," she said.
"It is not right that people think it's ok to steal from charity shops just because it's second-hand stuff.
"A lot of donations to these charities are to help people who are suffering from serious illnesses – and we're not going to sit back and let this happen.
"Volunteers all give up their own time to work there and if I was elderly I'd be very concerned about trying to confront a shoplifter."
Anybody with information should call the police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.