Fat shoplifters on the rampage
From correspondents in Johannesburg
July 29, 2004

A GANG of oversized women shoplifters has been terrorising shopkeepers and supermarkets in the South African port city of Durban over the past two months, police said.

The gang targeted stores in the city's crime-prone business district and diverted security staff with "commotion" while others packed their bags with goodies, Inspector Michael Read told AFP from Durban.

"Size is a factor in that they use it to intimidate the staff," he said, adding that the women operated in gangs of between four and 10.

"The modus operandi is that some of them pick up a mock fight or cause commotion while the others fill oversized bags with clothes. They usually target clothes shops and cosmetic outlets and then sell them to streetside vendors at cheap prices."

Read said "several arrests have been made but some of these women are still at large."

Security staff of shops in the area had been tipped by police to watch out for large women shopping in groups, he said.

The phenomenon started five years ago in Durban but came to a stop with the arrest of an all-women's gang, known as the A-team, according to provincial police director Bala Naidoo.

Agence France-Presse