Helen McDermott: Why these people are the lowest of the low
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Thefts from charity shops are on the rise. For Helen McDermott, there can be little worse in life
Just as we're gradually getting used to the idea of coping with the coronavirus pandemic, hearing and seeing the word every day we open the papers or turn on the radio, there's news of an epidemic of a different plague that's laying its slimy hands on us, invading our high streets.
We all know that shoplifting lowlifes have been with us for generations, but now there's an even slimier mutation to beware of - the creeps who sink to even lower depths of depravity by stealing from charity shops.
Nothing is sacred. If they can lift it they will. Clothes seem to be what they go for most, but they'll slide away with other stuff such as assorted bric-a-brac and vinyl records, even the collection box on the counter. Charity shops are easy prey, manned by generous volunteers who are often elderly people fearful of confronting these light-fingered vermin.
Now I have to confess that I've tended to be a bit of a snob when it comes to charity shops, though I have picked up the occasional bargain book. It's just that I've never really liked the idea of wearing something second-hand, 'pre-loved' as they call it now. Apart from jumble sales I don't actually remember any charity shops when I was growing up, though there must have been some. Mum used to make and mend our clothes, and as I got older I had to be satisfied with my big sister's cast-offs. This could be why, when I could afford it, I only ever wanted something that was new and entirely mine.
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Lately though I've been seeing charity shops in a different light, thanks to my friend Kate McCabe. She does a weekly vlog on them. I thought these sorts of vlogs were the equivalent of watching paint dry but there is something strangely compelling about watching her and the bargains she comes across. Apparently, I'm not alone in thinking this; she has over 23,000 followers on her YouTube channel. Kate shoots and edits her videos on her mobile phone and she invited me recently to tag along as she went round a few charity shops in Norwich. It was a bit of a revelation; the sheer quality of some of the goods on sale at vastly reduced prices. But in spite of those prices being very reasonable there is frequent pilfering.
Here are items that have been donated with the express purpose of raising money for the good work each charity does, yet thousands of pounds are lost each year through the squalid thieving of scumbags.
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What sort of creature steals something that's being sold for the benefit of those less fortunate? 'They're not necessarily who you'd think,' said one volunteer. Among the worst offenders there are pensioners. One shop is plagued by an old woman who visits on a regular basis to try and nick something. It's the sort of thing that might seem trivial but ultimately they are a cost to us all.
It's not just charity shops that are targets. According to the British Retail Consortium thefts from high street shops last year added up to one billion pounds. The trouble is that when when you see some thieving going on you can't always be certain you're right. It happened to me last week when I spotted a woman in a chemists looking a bit shady, loitering by a shelf of medication, stuff that was easy to pocket. Did she, or didn't she? If it was loo rolls, something harder to hide, it might have been more obvious. But there were no loo rolls there anyway. Perhaps she went to the nearest cafe and nicked theirs. On her way she might have passed the van where one wag had written on the back 'No toilet rolls are stored in this vehicle overnight.'