THE number of shoplifting incidents in the run-up to Christmas is at a five-year high in Blackburn, new figures have revealed.

More than 300 incidents of shoplifting in November and December were reported in 2012, compared to 197 in 2007 – an increase of 35 per cent.

Although figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, were not available for 2013, the number of food-related thefts increased in 2013, police said.

Despite luxury items, such as perfumes, digital cameras and designer headphones being taken, there were numerous thefts of every day products, including baby clothes, food, and children’s toys. A police spokesman said: “Some areas have seen increases in general shoplifting and, as part of that, we have seen examples of basic food items being stolen, which is a slight change from what we have seen previously.

“Whilst we aren’t drawing any specific conclusions from this, it may be possible that social pressures are one of the many potentially contributing factors.” The number of food-related thefts increased from just under 25 per cent to 33 per cent between February and July last year.

The police spokesman said officers carried out patrols, provided security advice to stores and dealt with repeat offenders, often through civil orders such as ASBOs or banning orders.

President of Blackburn Chamber of Trade, Tony Duckworth, said offenders seemed to be coming from ‘bail hostels’.

He said: “Shoplifting seems to be endemic. It is a problem for people and it’s expensive to deter. We have links between shops, and habitual offenders are monitored. It’s a matter of whether they are caught.”

Loraine Jones, general manager at The Mall, Blackburn, said: “We have a fantastic team of professional, experienced security personnel here and we take part in a campaign called Detect and Deter, aimed at identifying offenders before they enter The Mall.”

Executive director at Blackburn with Darwen Council, Andrew Lightfoot, said ‘crime and anti-social behaviour in the town centre is a top priority’.