City worker caught using onion scam to shoplift

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Nicholas Long

Nicholas Long, a 25-year-old city recruiter, and former national hockey player, from Chatham in Kent, has admitted using a 'loose onion scam' in order to steal £450 of groceries from Sainsbury's in central London.

So how did his scam work, how was he caught, and how bad a problem is shoplifting?


The Independent reported that Long was getting his groceries at a knock-down price in the Lombard Street store, by taking everything to the self-service checkouts and scanning them in as loose onions. The store didn't even sell lose onions, but enabled him to buy things by weight at a fraction of their cost.

According to The Telegraph, he was caught by an eagle-eyed security guard, who spotted what he was doing in August, when a pile of groceries had come to just £22. He subsequently admitted to having done it 20 times in the previous three months.

During the case, the Old Bailey heard that he had been driven by fear of losing his job, the pressure of the fact he was about to have a child, and debts from his fathers' firm. It also heard that he had two former convictions for shoplifting in 2010 and 2011.

The judge sentenced him to 180 hours of community service, ordered to pay £250 costs and was told that if he continued to offend he would receive a prison sentence.

Shoplifting rampant

Shoplifting is rife in the UK. The cases that make the headlines tend to be the odder stories, such as the woman in Salisbury who stole a bottle of Chanel perfume wearing a disguise of a fake moustache, fake nose and a pair of sunglasses last month.

The other stories we come to hear about are the celebrities who get mixed up in shoplifting - such as Anthony Worrall Thompson - who was cautioned last year for stealing wine and cheese from a Tesco store.

However, behind the headlines there is a tide of shoplifting. In the two months to June this year there were 26,675 instances of shoplifting. And these are just the times it was reported to the police. According to the British Retail Consortium, only one in eight incidents are reported - so the true extent of the problem is likely to be more than 100,000 incidents a month.

British Retail Consortium Director General, Helen Dickinson, says that the cost of shoplifting to retailers is increasing because organised criminals are targeting high value goods. At the other end of the spectrum the chief constable of Lancashire, Steve Finnigan, has reported an increase in the number of shoplifting incidents of very low value from people who are desperately hungry.

Many of those who steal from stores see it as a victimless crime - and assume that the £200 million annual cost of shoplifting will come out of the profits of the rich store owners. However, shops are in the business of making money, so they simply bump up the price of the goods on sale. In the end it's the honest shopper who is paying for the rising tide of shoplifting.

Revealed: The 10 most common scams

Revealed: The 10 most common scams