Assaulting a retail worker to be made specific criminal offence

The UK government is cracking down on retail crime with new legislation that will make assaulting retail workers a specific criminal offence.

The move comes after British retailers demanded the government tackle rising rates of retail crime, calling for those caught assaulting or abusing a retail worker to face a standalone offence.

Under the new law, perpetrators could be punished with up to six months in prison or an unlimited fine. Criminal Behaviour Orders could also ban offenders from visiting certain locations and carry a five-year maximum prison sentence if breached.

For more serious cases of assault and grievous bodily harm with intent, perpetrators could face a life sentence.

The government said that it will also increase action against repeat offenders and force them to wear tags to track their movements.

Should someone be found guilty of assaulting staff three times or sentenced for shoplifting on three different occasions, an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill could see them be made to wear a tag as part of a community order.

Additionally, the government announced it will invest £55.5 million over the next four years in facial recognition technology to prevent shoplifting. This will include £4 million for mobile units that can be deployed to High Streets and used in crowded areas to identify people wanted by the police.

In October last year, the British police created a specialised team to crack down on the organised crime gangs it claimed are behind many of the UK’s shoplifting incidents. The Retail Crime Action Plan aims to improve the way retailers can share intelligence through a new platform.

Home secretary James Cleverly said that there is no excuse for threatening behaviour or stealing which can harm people’s livelihoods and traumatise workers.

“To turn a blind eye to retail crime shakes the foundations of law and order which protect our society and that is unacceptable,” he said. “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.”

Several retailers and organisations have previously called on the government to take action against retail crime and put measures in place in an attempt to curb losses and keep their employees safe.

In February, the Co-op highlighted the rise in violence that its staff face. The company said that there were 336,270 incidents of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour across Co-op’s 2,400 stores during 2023, up 44 per cent year-over-year and representing around 1,000 incidents every day across its 2,400 stores.

Last July, the Co-op warned that some communities could become “no go” areas for retailers after recording its highest ever rate of retail crime.

Following a submission of a freedom of information request, Co-op said that many police forces do not prioritise retail crime after finding that 71 per cent of serious retail crime is “not responded to by police”.

Speaking about the new legislation Paul Gerrard, campaigns and public affairs director of The Co-op Group said:

“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.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC said that after "relentless campaigning”, the “voices of the three million people working in retail are finally being heard.

“This announcement sends a clear message that abusive behaviour will not be tolerated and it is vital the police use this new legislation to step up their response to incidents,” she continued. “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.”

Sharon White, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership – which has reportedly given its staff de-escalation training to identify when an in-store interaction could become violent – welcomed the government’s announcement.

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

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