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'We feel unsafe in our city due to shoplifters'

A man stands in a shop
Rob Bevan said the last three months have been "pretty horrendous" for shoplifting in the city

Shoplifting in a Somerset city is the worst it has ever been with staff fearing for their safety, local businesses have said.

Shops, as well as market traders, in Wells have said that shoplifters are becoming more aggressive and, in some cases, violent.

More than 200 businesses have joined a local Whatsapp group to share information on suspicious shoppers in their stores.

Avon and Somerset Police said it is encouraging people to report incidents of shoplifting - especially where violence is used.

Shoppers enjoy Wells Market
More than 200 businesses have joined a local WhatsApp group

Protec, in the city centre, sells kitchenware, electronics and gifts.

Shop owner, Rob Bevan, said: "The last three months have been pretty horrendous really."

He has multiple state-of-the-art cameras but said that has not stopped people putting things in their coat or bag, even when stood next to store staff.

Mr Bevan shares information on the WhatsApp group and said it has been helping.

But he said there have been more assaults and his staff are scared.

On 15 February a shop on Broad Street was attacked by a a motorcyclist, who failed to get through the store's toughened glass and security system.

The police are still appealing for information related to the incident, which happened in the early hours of the morning.

Shopkeepers told the BBC that it is attacks like this that are making their staff worried.

A market trader sits at her stall
Polly Gamble wears a whistle for her protection

And it is not only shops that are being affected. It is also a problem for market traders.

Polly Gamble sells her jewellery in the city and wears a whistle to alert others if someone becomes aggressive.

Speaking about the shoplifters, she said: "You have to be very vigilant with every customer you have. You can't trust anyone.

"You don't know if it's going to be the little old lady or the person who you think, 'oh they look a bit dodgy'. "

A man stands outside his cafe bar
Loaye Agabani said that shoplifters show "no regard for anyone's safety or property"

A recent survey by the British Retail Consortium showed a 50% increase in levels of retail violence and abuse, with 1,300 incidents a day nationally.

These figures do not surprise Loaye Agabani, a cafe/bar owner and the chair of Wells Chamber of Commerce.

"Shoplifters used to be more opportunistic.

"Now they are more violent, they're more prolific, they're more brazen," he said.

Avon and Somerset Police said it is working with local shopkeepers to come up with ways to support them.

It said this includes a radio link scheme, which joins the shops with police and council CCTV staff.