Ministers urged to make attacks on shop staff a specific criminal offence

29 June 2021, 09:09

The Association of Convenience Stores said that 89 per cent of staff in local shops had experienced some form of abuse
The Association of Convenience Stores said that 89 per cent of staff in local shops had experienced some form of abuse. Picture: PA

By Daisy Stephens

MPs are urging the Government to make attacks on shop staff a specific criminal offence amid a "rising tide of violence and abuse" against workers in retail.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee said the "patchwork" of existing legislation was not adequate to address the escalating scale of attacks and it called for shop workers to be given additional protection in law in the same way as emergency service workers and customs officers.

"Other categories of workers, such as emergency workers and customs officers, have rightly been afforded extra protection by the law in recognition of the service they provide to the public and the responsibility placed upon them by Parliament," said the committee's report.

"We believe that retail workers must also be recognised, and that offences against them must be treated with additional seriousness, with extra protection from the law.

"It would send a clear, powerful and long overdue message that abuse and violence towards retail workers will not be tolerated."

The committee said it had received evidence of a "shocking rise" in attacks over the past five years, with the Association of Convenience Stores reporting that 89 per cent of staff in local shops had experienced some form of abuse.

Staff were particularly vulnerable as they were responsible for enforcing laws with regard to age-restricted sales and restricted goods, with disputes often a trigger for violence and abuse.

However, in its report the committee said the police response to such attacks failed to match the extent of the problem.

"On far too many occasions retail workers are being left alone to manage dangerous situations which put both their physical and mental well-being at risk," the report said.

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In response, minister for Crime and Policing Kit Malthouse said:

“It is completely unacceptable to threaten or assault retail staff, not least when they are working so hard to keep vital services running, and we absolutely condemn this behaviour.

“We are putting 20,000 extra police officers into our communities to cut crime – including retail crime – and we launched the #ShopKind campaign in April to provide better support to victims and encourage customers to treat shopworkers with dignity and respect.

“The Sentencing Council has set out guidelines that mean courts should be increasing sentences for assaults committed against those providing a service to the public, including shop workers.”

The committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said: "During the Covid-19 pandemic, retail workers kept our communities going and they deserve our thanks and gratitude.

"It is even more shameful, then, that abuse and assaults against shop workers went up during the pandemic, and it is completely unacceptable that these attacks have become so commonplace in our society.

"Those who abuse and assault shop workers must not be allowed to reoffend with impunity."

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The report was welcomed by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) which suggested the Government could act through an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently going through Parliament.

"Shop workers have suffered for far too long," said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

"Notwithstanding the evidence, the Government has repeatedly rejected numerous calls to protect retail workers through the creation of a specific offence.

"We hope this report will prompt the Government to finally do what is necessary to protect retail staff from harm across the country and stop dragging its feet."