Shoplifting has become an “epidemic”, with incidents not always investigated by police, the boss of John Lewis has said.

Dame Sharon White, chairwoman of the John Lewis Partnership, which also owns Waitrose, said shop workers are having to put up with “abuse and attacks” from thieves.

John Lewis is among 10 of the UK’s biggest retailers which have agreed to fund a police operation to crack down on shoplifting, dubbed Project Pegasus.

The companies are expected to pay around £600,000 towards the project, which will utilise CCTV pictures and facial recognition technology to get a better understanding of shoplifting operations.

Shop thefts have more than doubled in the past six years, reaching eight million in 2022, The British Retail Consortium (BRC) estimates.

In August, police arrested nine people and issued 34 dispersal orders after an incident in London’s Oxford Street, following social media rumours of planned disorder.

“High streets risk becoming a looting ground for emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs,” said Dame Sharon, writing in The Telegraph.

She said the UK needs a comprehensive plan to stop organised gangs, and called for Scottish legislation that makes the abuse of a retail worker an offence to be brought in nationwide.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “In the last year we’ve seen twice as many offences.

“When I think about our shop workers who were lauded as national heroes during the pandemic, it’s not right that they’re having to put up with abuse and attacks.

“Incidents haven’t always been responded to by the police… and sometimes those incidents have got some violent aspects.”

On Monday, the retail boss said a royal commission – which is an independent public inquiry – is needed to help support retailers.

There needs to be a “holistic view” of the problems facing high streets, rather than individually investigating issues such as tax, crime, planning, housing, and environmental policy, she argued.

Iceland executive chairman Richard Walker said his company is spending “more than ever” on security, yet “serious incidents have never been higher”.

Writing on social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, he said: “This is a matter of staff safety: the govt urgently need to review police funding & resources, but also the powers that our security officers have.”