Darlington shop owners are losing hundreds of pounds every day after an "epidemic" of shoplifting in the town.

One shop manager described shoplifters entering shops in different disguises to avoid being spotted -  with one culprit even pretending to use a wheelchair.

Regular offenders are well known to staff in town and they described how they feel powerless to stop it.

(Image: Northern Echo)

The number of offences in Darlington has more than doubled from 56 in April 2022 to 116 in April 2024 according to police data.

Charity shops like St Teresa's Hospice and Oxfam are not escaping regular incidents of thefts either.

(Image: Northern Echo)

Rose Wills, manager of St Teresa's Hospice charity shop on High Row, described the situation as an "epidemic" as more and more items get stolen.

She said: "It is really bad. Last Tuesday I came back from the warehouse and a pair of £45 jeans had been pinched.

"The other day it was three £10 tops. Over the weekend the same person came back in with a cap and glasses on.

"There are sometimes enforcement officers in town but I haven't seen them as much, they are stretched very thin at the moment.

"It's just getting ridiculous. Some of them come in with disguises on, hoping that we don't recognise them."

An anonymous worker at Greggs on High Row also said that the situation in town was getting worse.

They said: "We get shoplifters several times a day. Sometimes it is the same people.

"We report it to the police. They have actioned some people but others they haven't.

"The police have said that if it is less than £11 then it isn't worth the time.

"But then they can come in every day and get £10 worth of stuff and get away with it."

The Darlington Neighbourhood Inspector has made it clear that the police are keen to investigate any and all instances of shoplifting in the area.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that there has been a 79 per cent increase in shoplifting in Darlington; increasing from 622 cases in 2022 to 1,113 in 2023.

Claire, a worker at Post House News on Post House Wynd, described how she thought the police had less interest in offences at smaller businesses.

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She said: "We have an issue with shoplifting. We have had to put a lot of cameras up to deal with it.

"They (shoplifters) think that we are a little shop they can just run into.

"The police aren't interested in little shops like us. We tell people that we don't want them back in."

Darlington Council relaunched Shopwatch last year and currently, 160 shops and businesses in the town centre have joined up.

The scheme allows shop owners to communicate through radio and WhatsApp about any incidents or shoplifters in the area.

Sue, deputy manager at Oxfam on Skinnergate, described how the charity has prosecuted many shoplifters even for thefts of low-value items.

(Image: Northern Echo)

She said: "We do get shoplifters in here. We were in the Shopwatch scheme but because we are a charity it's tricky for us to be in it.

"Now we just have a lot of CCTV cameras. It makes it easier for us to go to the police.

"We have taken people to court. It's a big problem for us. 

"When we have reported it to the police they said if it is less than £10 it is not worth taking it to the courts.

"We said it is not about the price of the items taken. We want to get the word out that we do take it seriously."

A spokesperson for Durham Constabulary said: "We’re seeing significant progress in the reduction of antisocial behaviour in our communities across County Durham and Darlington through Operation Trailblazer.

"The Home Office funded initiative has allowed us to target areas that have been hit the hardest, with dedicated antisocial behaviour patrols being carried out across the force area every day.

"Operation Trailblazer is operating across the county, in areas identified by you – the residents of County Durham and Darlington - as the worst for offending."

Superintendent Neal Bickford, Durham Constabulary’s lead for antisocial behaviour, says: "We are seeing significant progress in the reduction of antisocial behaviour in our communities through Operation Trailblazer, thanks to investment from the Home Office, which has allowed us to target areas that have been hit the hardest.

"Operation Trailblazer is an ongoing programme, and we are keen for people to continue to report anti-social behaviour so that we can provide rapid support to residents when needed.

"If you’re suffering from anti-social behaviour where you live, or have intelligence of those who commit this type of activity, let us know.

"We can and we will do more."