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Government Launches Retail Crime Crackdown

Eddie Jordan / shutterstock / 1743926996

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and its members welcome the government’s introduction of a standalone offence for assaulting a retail worker. For over five years the BRC, along with retailers, other trade associations and unions, have campaigned for a standalone offence for a retail worker, to create transparency about the scale of the issue and to help police to allocate resources to deal with it.

Responding to the announcement, Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said:

“After relentless campaigning for a specific offence for assaulting retail workers, the voices of the three million people working in retail have finally been 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. The BRC 2024 Annual Crime Survey showed record levels of violence and abuse, with incidents soaring to over 1,300 per day last year, compared to 870 the year before.

“Victims are ordinary hardworking people - teenagers taking on their first job, carers looking for part-time work, parents working around childcare.

“This announcement sends a clear message that this abusive behaviour will not be tolerated. It will improve the police response, which has historically been poor, as police will now have the necessary data to understand the scale of the problem and allocate sufficient resource to address this issue.

“Retailers are playing their part, spending over £1bn last year on crime prevention measures. Government has taken action, and it is vital that the police use this new legislation to step up their response to incidents. 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.”

The Government statement follows:

Serial or abusive shoplifters will face tougher punishments as the Prime Minister sets out tough new action to crack down on retail crime and protect UK highstreets.

Assaulting a retail worker will be made a standalone criminal offence, sending a clear message that there will be tough consequences for this unacceptable behaviour. 

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 Criminal Behaviour Orders barring them visiting specific premises. Breaching an order is also a criminal offence and carries a five-year maximum prison sentence. For the most serious cases of assault, such as causing grievous bodily harm with intent, offenders could face a life sentence.

The move to create the new offence follows longstanding campaigning on this issue from Matt Vickers MP, and some of the biggest retailers, calling for more action to better protect their staff. 

The government is also stepping up action to clamp down on offenders who repeatedly target the country’s high streets, with serial offenders forced to wear tags to track their movements. 

These tags will be a constant and physical reminder to offenders that the Probation Service can find out where they have been and when, and that they risk being sent to prison if they refuse to obey the rules. Under an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, if an offender is found guilty of assaulting staff three times, or is sentenced for shoplifting on three separate occasions, they should be made to wear a tag as part of any community order.

Ahead of this legislation coming in, the government will partner with a police force to pilot a bespoke package of community sentencing measures which can be used by judges to tackle high levels of shoplifting, sending a clear message that repeat criminality will not be tolerated.

The government is also ramping up the use of facial recognition technology to help catch perpetrators and prevent shoplifting in the first place. Backed by a £55.5m investment over the next four years, the police will be able to further roll this new state of the art technology. This will include £4m for bespoke mobile units that can be deployed to high streets across the country with live facial recognition used in crowded areas to identify people wanted by the police – including repeat shoplifters.

The mobile units will take live footage of crowds in towns and on highstreets, comparing images to specific people wanted by the police or banned from that location. Police in the area will then be alerted so they can track down these offenders.  

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

Since 2010, violent and neighbourhood crime in England and Wales has fallen dramatically, showing our plan to keep our streets safe is working. Yet 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 shopworkers, 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.

The action set out today builds on the successes already through the police’s Retail Crime Action Plan, which was commissioned by the Crime and Policing Minister, Chris Philp last year.

This included a range of measures, such as a police commitment to prioritise urgently attending the scene of shop theft involving violence against a shop worker, where security guards have detained an offender or where attendance is needed to secure evidence, which is showing signs of progress.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: 

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.

The government has driven forward significant efforts to tackle retail crime in the past year, bringing together policing and business to commit to smarter, more joined up working to reduce criminal behaviour and rebuild public confidence in the police response when it does occur. 

Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said:

Sadly if you speak to anyone working in retail, they will tell you of the verbal abuse and sometimes violent assaults they’ve been victims of, simply for trying to do their job. 

In no other work place would this be accepted. I have been driving forward action to improve the police response to retail crime since I became Policing Minister, because nothing less than a zero-tolerance approach will do.

That’s why today we’re sending a clear message to criminals that enough is enough bringing forward further measures to protect retail workers and crack down on those who continuously disregard the law.

A specialist new police team set up last year is building intelligence on organised retail crime gangs funded through ‘Pegasus’, a first-of-its-kind business and policing partnership backed by 14 of the UK’s biggest retailers, National Business Crime Solutions and the Home Office, launched to radically improve the way retailers are able to share intelligence with police to identify more offenders. The unit forms part of Opal, the national police intelligence unit for serious organised acquisitive crime.   

Where CCTV or other digital images are secured, police are committed to running this through the Police National Database, as standard, to aid efforts to identify prolific offenders or potentially dangerous individuals. This builds on the pledge by police forces across England and Wales that they will follow up on all lines of enquiry, where there is a reasonable chance it could lead them to catching a perpetrator and solving a crime.

All police forces across England and Wales made another significant commitment last year to prioritise police attendance at the scene of a retail crime incident where violence has been used towards shop staff, where an offender has been detained by store security, or where evidence needs to be secured and can only be done by police personnel.

Paul Gerrard, Campaigns and Public Affairs Director of The Co-op Group, said:

The Co-op sees every day the violence and threats our colleagues, like other retail workers, face as they serve the communities they live in.

We have long called for a standalone offence of attacking or abusing a shopworker and so we very much welcome the Government’s announcement today.

The Co-op will redouble our work with police forces but these measures will undoubtedly, when implemented, keep our shopworkers safer, protect the shops they work in and help the communities both serve.

Sharon White, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, said: 

Retail crime is never victimless - it costs retailers over £1 billion every year and can have a huge impact on the shop workers involved. 

We’ve long called for violence towards retail workers to be recognised as a standalone offence so welcome this announcement, which sends a clear message that abuse will never be tolerated. It will help deter acts of aggression, and allow police to drive prosecutions should instances escalate.

Simon Roberts, Sainsbury’s CEO, said:

There is nothing more important to us than keeping our colleagues and customers safe. 

Alongside our own security measures like colleague worn cameras, in store detectives and security barriers, today’s announcement is a vital next step in enabling our police forces to clamp down further.

We fully endorse and support this legislative focus and action on driving down retail crime.

Seb James, Managing Director, Boots UK & Ireland, said:

We welcome the measures announced by the government today.

Intimidation and abuse of retail workers is unacceptable, so legislation to strengthen shopworker protection sends a powerful signal and deterrent and we look forward to working with the Home Office, police, and local community partners to put these plans into action.

At Boots, we also continue to invest in our own capability to disrupt and deter criminal activity and protect our team members, including in our CCTV monitoring centre and body worn video cameras.

Source : BRC, UK Government

Image : Eddie Jordan / / 1743926996

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10 April 2024

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