The number of shoplifting offences recorded by police in England and Wales has risen to the highest level in 20 years.

A total of 430,104 offences were logged by forces last year, up more than a third (37 per cent) on the 315,040 recorded in the previous 12 months to December 2022.

The figure is the highest since current records began in the year to March 2003, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which described the latest increase as “notable”.

The data published comes in the wake of major retailers raising concerns about the rising cost of theft.

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said the figures were “sadly not surprising”, adding: “Thieves are stealing on a regular basis without fear of apprehension, so it’s essential that every police force in the country takes theft seriously, not least because challenging thieves is one of the biggest triggers for abuse of shopworkers."

The figures are likely to only represent a “fraction of the true picture on shop theft”, he said, because the “vast majority of incidents that take place end up not being reported because of the time taken to report the crime and the lack of follow up from the police”.

Earlier this month the Co-op said thousands of shoplifters were walking free after being detained by undercover guards in its stores, as the retailer urged action to stop criminals viewing it as a crime without consequences.