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Barbers hit back at police chief’s claim that salons offering cheap trims  are a ‘red flag’ and a potential front for criminal gangs


Barbers have hit back at claims by a top cop that salons offering cut-price trims were a ‘red flag’ and potential front for criminal gangs and drug cartels. 

High Streets across the country have become overrun with male grooming establishments amid a boom in their popularity since lockdown.  

The seismic swell has seen the number of barber shops balloon by 50 per cent since 2018, with more than 17,700 now operating nationwide. 

But the huge spike this week prompted a warning from Detective Superintendent Charlotte Tucker, who feared gangs could be exploiting the salon surge.

The senior cop, who was behind Britain’s first child modern slavery prosecution, said establishments in London offering ‘really cheap’ £10 haircuts could be a ‘red flag’, acting as a front for gangs to fund human trafficking, drugs and slave labour. 

Now London barbers have been fighting back, insisting their cheap trims were about getting more customers through the door – not fuelling crime.  

Lads Barbers, which is the self-proclaimed ‘cheapest barber shop’ in Eltham High Street, south east London, offers standard cuts for £14. 

London barber Arias Mahoudi has insisted cheap cuts are about getting more customers through the door

London barber Arias Mahoudi has insisted cheap cuts are about getting more customers through the door

Mr Mahoudi, 23, had been working at Lads Barbers in Eltham High Street, south east London  more than five years and argues it is unfair to charge high prices outside of the city centre

Mr Mahoudi, 23, had been working at Lads Barbers in Eltham High Street, south east London  more than five years and argues it is unfair to charge high prices outside of the city centre 

The explosion of barber shops in London and other major UK cities has prompted experts to call for an investigation (stock image)

The explosion of barber shops in London and other major UK cities has prompted experts to call for an investigation (stock image)

Arias Mahoudi, 23, had been working at the shop for more than five years and argues that it is unfair to charge high prices outside of central London – where a trendy trim can cost upwards of £100. 

‘We do not want to charge a lot of money because this is not a rich place,’ he told MailOnline.

‘I prefer charging less and getting more customers. When our customers come in, they complain about how steep the prices are around here.

‘You have still got to give a good service. The customers are happy with it. We do a similar service to everyone else here and we charge less.’

He also believes that lots of the barber shops in the area get very competitive with each other, something which he wants no part of.

He added: ‘I don’t want to compete I just want to do my work and that is it.

‘I don’t care what anybody out there is doing I am just going to keep doing what I do.’

But his rivals locally say they are now struggling to keep up with low prices, with one traditional barber’s shop owner claiming his 35-year-old business has lost most of their customers due to the new cheap alternatives.

Abdullah Mahmoudi, 36, says he has worked at Joe’s Barber for 15 years and has seen huge changes since the new shops started opening nearby. He said: ‘Some of the other shops are very cheap and they are stealing all of our customers.

Abdullah Mahmoudi, 36, says he has worked at Joe's Barber for 15 years and has seen huge changes since the new shops started opening nearby

Abdullah Mahmoudi, 36, says he has worked at Joe’s Barber for 15 years and has seen huge changes since the new shops started opening nearby

He said: 'Some of the other shops are very cheap and they are stealing all of our customers'

He said: ‘Some of the other shops are very cheap and they are stealing all of our customers’

The shop charges between £9 for a normal clipper trim and £16 for a skin fade cut

The shop charges between £9 for a normal clipper trim and £16 for a skin fade cut 

At Golden Blade, where a standard cut is around £16, the staff believe that low prices reflect poor service. Pictured is Yusef, a barber at the establishment

At Golden Blade, where a standard cut is around £16, the staff believe that low prices reflect poor service. Pictured is Yusef, a barber at the establishment

‘People here know us because we have been here so long, our customers were like family.

‘Before we used to have customers queuing and all times and now it is empty in here.

‘We can’t afford to match the prices that they do.’

The average cost of a haircut and beard trim is £19, according to consumer data platform Statista.

But behind this figure is a wide regional variation, with some trims costing as little as £5 in the North East, while in trendy West London neighbourhoods customers can pay more than £100 for a cut.

Det Supt Tucker, of Wiltshire Police, said buying a cut-price haircut risks lining the pockets of criminal gangs who are exploiting workers for profit.

‘If something is really cheap, like a £10 haircut in London, then it can be a red flag that workers may be being underpaid, or paid nothing at all,’ she told the Telegraph.

Detective Superintendent Charlotte Tucker of Wiltshire Police, has warned criminal gangs could be exploiting the salon surge

Detective Superintendent Charlotte Tucker of Wiltshire Police, has warned criminal gangs could be exploiting the salon surge

Eltham High Street in London is dominated by barber shops amid a boom in popularity

Eltham High Street in London is dominated by barber shops amid a boom in popularity 

Abdullah Mahmoudi, Joe's Barbers, Eltham, is worried about the cheap prices of competitors

Abdullah Mahmoudi, Joe’s Barbers, Eltham, is worried about the cheap prices of competitors 

She added: ‘Everybody likes a bargain. But if something feels too good to be true, it probably is.’ 

Mr Mahmoudi agreed and is now demanding councils step in and act. He added: ‘It is 100 per cent dodgy. How would they pay their lease at those prices?

‘When I came here there were only three or four barber shops in Eltham. Now there are 30 or 40.

‘I am not saying that all of them are dodgy, but the council should limit it.

‘There is nothing that I can do: the problem is the council. They shouldn’t be letting them open.’

He described that lots of the owners of these new barber shops also own other businesses across the country.

He said: ‘They own loads of shops so why do they need to come here?

‘The guy who owns it is clever, and the people around him are clever. I had an argument with them when they opened.’

Other shops in the area which charge average or high prices were also baffled that shops could stay afloat charging £10 or less.

At Golden Blade, where a standard cut is around £16, the staff believe that low prices reflect poor service.

Yusef, 24, who has been working at the shop for five years, said: ‘£10 is definitely dodgy.

‘At those prices people don’t expect service they just want to get in and out.

‘Personally, when it comes to price you have to give a good service. If they are charging £10 then they are only doing 10- to 15-minute cuts.’

At Golden Blade, where a standard cut is around £16, the staff believe that low prices reflect poor service.

At Golden Blade, where a standard cut is around £16, the staff believe that low prices reflect poor service.

Yusef (pictured) who has been working at the shop for five years, said: '£10 is definitely dodgy.

Yusef (pictured) who has been working at the shop for five years, said: ‘£10 is definitely dodgy.

Pictured is the interior of Golden Blade in Eltham, London, which is packed with grooming products for customers 

He says that with the cost-of-living crisis many barbers are struggling and need to lower prices to a point where they can’t afford to pay their staff.

He added: ‘I have heard of a lot of barbers where the bosses can’t afford to pay their staff, but they also can’t afford to raise prices because they will lose their customers.’

Another employee from Razor Sharp just down the road, who charge £18 for a standard cut, says the maths doesn’t add up for outlets charging £10 to turn a profit.

Bailey Tran, 18, who has been working at the Eltham Barbers for three years, said: ‘There are some shops around here where I think “how do you have the clientele?”

‘When you walk past there is no one in there. It is the same as the phone shops you see everywhere, and you wonder how they make any money.

‘Personally, I don’t know how the maths works. If they are charging £10 per person then even on a fully booked day, they would only make £200.

‘There is just no way that you can make money like that, unless the owners have a huge financial backing.’

Bailey Tran, 18, who works at the Eltham Barbers, said: 'There are some shops around here where I think "how do you have the clientele?"

Bailey Tran, 18, who works at the Eltham Barbers, said: ‘There are some shops around here where I think “how do you have the clientele?”

The standard trim at Golden Blade is £16, with a close-cut skin fade costing £18 (pictured)

The standard trim at Golden Blade is £16, with a close-cut skin fade costing £18 (pictured)

The National Hair & Beauty Federation (NHBF) said that in the last year, 918 new barber shops had opened nationwide, taking the total to 17,702 nationwide, a 50 per cent increase since 2018.

Justine Carter, director of anti-slavery charity Unseen, fears the surge in barbershops could lead to vulnerable people being exploited by gangs.

It comes as recent figures revealed there were at least 100,000 victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK .

Ms Carter observed the recent boom in salons may reflect a shift in how criminal gangs were operating nationwide, swapping nail salons and car washing businesses to barber shops as a front to run their illicit empires.

‘It’s like Whack-a-Mole. You start pressing down in one area and the criminal gangs will pop up somewhere else, and you realise you haven’t stopped it, you’ve just displaced it,’ she told the Telegraph.

Abdullah Mahmoudi, Joe's Barbers, Eltham, is worried about the cheap prices of competitors

Abdullah Mahmoudi, Joe’s Barbers, Eltham, is worried about the cheap prices of competitors

The news comes after security sources told The Mail on Sunday that barber shops were increasingly being used as fronts for criminal gangs .

Officials fear crooks are using some businesses to conceal the proceeds of crime, and that many could be a base for human trafficking and slave labour in the same way nail bars and car washes have been used in the past.

Former Metropolitan Police officer Ali Hassan Ali said: ‘Right across High Streets we have seen a boom in barbers opening up since the pandemic.

‘A lot of these shops have thousands of pounds of equipment but no customers.

‘While in some cases the shops will be involved in legitimate business, from my own experience, there is strong reason to believe a large number, particularly those owned by Albanians, Turks and Kurds, have links to organised crime.

‘This can be people-smuggling and in some cases drugs.

Cheap barber shops could be a front for criminal gangs who use money generated from them to fund human trafficking (pictured: migrants landing illegally in Dover in January)

‘We know the people smuggling gangs in Calais have been traditionally operated by Kurds but they are now working with the Albanians.’

He added: ‘The sudden increase of barber shops is really concerning because they are playing a part in funding human trafficking and in the misery that causes.’

Data compiled by the NHBF showed that between 2014 and 2019 there was a 64 per cent increase in the number of barber shops in the UK, from 7,958 to 13,046.

An HMRC spokesman said: ‘We routinely carry out work with partners to tackle a variety of compliance risks across business sectors.

‘While we can’t discuss identifiable businesses, we take all reports of wrongdoing extremely seriously and take robust action to make sure that everyone pays the tax due.’

While Caroline Larissey, chief executive of the NHBF, added the organisation was aware that a ‘small number’ of barber shops may be ‘involved in illegal practices’.



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