Shoplifting and violence against shop staff has got "significantly worse" in the city centre, a shop owner has claimed.

Caroline French, the eight generation owner of W.J French & Son's in Bedford Place, says that police have done an "amazing job" in the city centre, but that this has led to criminals being pushed out into other areas.

It comes on a day of action six months on from Hampshire Police’s launch of the city centre unit to curb violence against shop workers, business owners have warned criminals are spilling into other parts of Southampton.

Caroline has told of retail staff having to rescue one customer who was too scared to leave her car.

“Over the last five years, shoplifting and violence against shop staff has got significantly worse," she said.

“In our area, we don’t have the same police presence. Anti-social behaviour and drug deals have become a huge problem in the area.

“We have one very persistent criminal who tells residents she is homeless and pregnant in order to buy money for drugs.”

The shop owner said that the business and the police know the individual is not homeless nor pregnant.

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“She can be very aggressively persistent which has resulted in customers being made very uncomfortable and want to avoid shopping in the area.

“Customers have said to us, I’m never coming back, or I had to drive away – one lady wouldn’t leave her car until a shop worker came to support her.”

On Thursday, March 14, police and the city’s BID, Go! Southampton were engaging with businesses in the city centre to raise awareness around the rise in retail crime and anti-social behaviour.

The unit has been up and running for three months, and the team has already made more than 136 arrests, which has resulted in 37 offenders being charged and remanded into custody.

Southampton’s Chief Inspector Marcus Kennedy, said: “Our retail partners are now much more confident that when reporting crime – action will happen.  

“We had one shop worker burst in to tears when she saw the city centre unit – she felt so unsafe at work and finally felt she had some security.”

Jade McCauley, Operations Manager, GO! Southampton, said: “The response from our new crime unit has been fantastic – and shop workers are feeling safer at work and they are seeing repeat offenders far less.”