The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has warned that as the economic downturn begins to bite there could be an increase in levels of shoplifting.

Each year the BRC compiles an annual crime survey, with the latest figures showing that theft levels in the year to April have actually dipped. However, a spokesperson for the BRC told just-food that the retail body is concerned that the worsening economic climate will reverse these gains.

"We have expressed the fear that the downturn will lead to an increase in theft levels," the spokesperson said.

He also predicted that the downturn could usher in new patterns in shoplifting: "What drives a lot of retail crime is people stealing small, high-value, items to sell on. As need increases, we could certainly see the range of products being stolen widen."

According to the BRC, retailers spend "an enormous amount" battling shoplifting, from in-store security measures, to on-line checks for credit or debit card fraud, to technology that monitors spending patterns.