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April 23, 2024

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Assaulting a retail worker is to be made a standalone criminal offence – but unions say the new law is too little too late

A new law is to be introduced making assaulting a retail worker a standalone criminal offence – but unions say the government action is too little too late.

The Prime Minister launched a retail crime crackdown this month after statistics showed 90% of retail workers have been abused by customers. The initiative, launched to root out prolific and violent shoplifters is called Project Pegasus

But retail trade union Usdaw said thousands of shop workers ‘have been assaulted, abused and threatened while the Government dithered and delayed’.

“Abuse towards retail workers continues to rise”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, said: “The scale of assaults, abuse and threats towards shop workers and extent of the retail crime epidemic has been a disgrace for many years.
“This has been made worse by police cuts and a failure to legislate to protect retail staff. Usdaw has long called for action that includes a standalone offence for assaulting a shop worker and that has been vehemently opposed by this Government and their Conservative MPs on many occasions.

 “This long overdue U-turn is the culmination of many years of sustained campaigning. Our members have had to wait too long for their voices to be heard and common sense to prevail.
“We will have to see the detail of what they are proposing – it cannot fall short of Labour’s commitments to 13,000 more uniformed officers, patrols on high streets, banning repeat offenders and ending the perverse £200 threshold for prosecuting shoplifters.

“The dither and delay of this Government, on this issue, over many years, has led to thousands of shop workers needlessly suffering physical and mental injury.”

Tougher punishment

TescoWhen launching the new action this week the Prime Minister said serial or abusive shoplifters will face tougher punishments as a way to protect UK highstreets.

Perpetrators could be sent to prison for up to six months, receive an unlimited fine and be banned from going back to the shop where they committed their crimes – with a 5-year maximum prison sentence if they breach this ban – and serial offenders could be forced to wear tags to track their movements. 

The government will also increase its use of facial recognition technology to help catch perpetrators and prevent shoplifting in the first place. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Shoplifting and violence and abuse towards retail workers continues to rise.

“I am sending a message to those criminals – whether they are serious organised criminal gangs, repeat offenders or opportunistic thieves – who think they can get away with stealing from these local businesses or abusing shop workers, enough is enough.

“Our local shops are the lifeblood of our communities, and they must be free to trade without the threat of crime or abuse.”

Voices in retail ‘finally’ heard

shopping-cartHome Secretary James Cleverly added: “There is quite simply no excuse for threatening behaviour or stealing – which can run other people’s livelihoods into the ground, while being traumatic for workers.
“To turn a blind eye to retail crime shakes the foundations of law and order which protect our society and that is unacceptable. We are enhancing our plan and doubling down on the zero-tolerance approach needed to fight back. 

“The number of offenders being charged for these crimes is increasing and while I want to see more people face consequences for their actions, our plan is designed to help put a stop to these crimes happening in the first place.”

It comes in the wake of Tesco staff being offered bodycams following a rise in violent attacks and the British Retail Consortium crime survey results for 2023 showing incidents almost doubled pre-pandemic levels.

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “After relentless campaigning for a specific offence for assaulting retail workers, the voices of the 3 million people working in retail are finally being heard.

“The impact of retail violence has steadily worsened, with people facing racial abuse, sexual harassment, threatening behaviour, physical assault and threats with weapons, often linked to organised crime.
“Victims are ordinary hardworking people – teenagers taking on their first job, carers looking for part-time work, parents working around childcare.

“Together, we must stamp out this scourge in crime that has been sweeping the nation and ensure retail workers are given the vital protections they deserve.”

Worker safety ‘a cornerstone’

Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of British Safety Council said “The Government’s decision to make assaulting a shop worker a standalone criminal office in England and Wales reflects the rising risks faced by retail workers. To date, the retail sector has largely shouldered the weight of protecting staff against intimidation and violence, through enhanced de-escalation training, self-defence training, and the introduction of body-worn cameras.

“Providing law enforcement agencies and our courts and tribunals service, with the powers that they need to combat and prosecute violent offenders should serve as an effective deterrent to would-be offenders. A standalone offence reflects the severity of the recent rising trends in anti-social behaviour, intimidation, and physical violence faced by those in customer-facing retail roles, and reminds wider society why worker safety must form a cornerstone of government policy, our society, and our economy.”

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