'We’ve got your back': Rishi Sunak’s message to retail staff as he pledges crackdown on dangerous shoplifters

10 April 2024, 08:30 | Updated: 10 April 2024, 13:54

Rishi Sunak has pledged a crackdown on shoplifting
Rishi Sunak has pledged a crackdown on shoplifting. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak has told retail staff that the government wants to protect them, as he vowed to crack down on dangerous shoplifters.

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During an exclusive phone-in with LBC callers this morning, the Prime Minister said that attacking retail staff was "not right" and told workers "we've got your back."

Mr Sunak has unveiled the new specific offence of assaulting a shop worker.

The new offence, brought in as part of an amended Criminal Justice Bill, will carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail or an unlimited fine. This is the same sentence that can be given out for common assault.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Mr Sunak recalled his own experience of seeing shoplifters steal from his parents' pharmacy while he was there.

Rishi Sunak in the LBC studio with Nick Ferrari
Rishi Sunak in the LBC studio with Nick Ferrari. Picture: LBC

"Of course, for a small family business it’s obviously financially affecting but it’s also very distressing," he said. "I know what it feels like".

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Rishi Sunak tells shop workers 'we've got your back' on theft

The PM pointed out that crime had gone down in the past 14 years, but admitted that shoplifting had increased. "It’s not acceptable - it’s absolutely not right," he said.

As well as bringing in the new offence, the new rules will mean prolific shoplifters will also be made to wear an electronic tag, as could consistent shoplifters. Shops will also make greater use of facial recognition technology to identify people wanted by the police in crowded areas.

Mr Sunak said: "We’ve been working with the retailers on this for a while - I think it will make a significant difference".

Asked how the new six-month sentence works alongside pledges to cut shorter prison terms, the Prime Minister said: "There are definitely situations in which it will be better, and in fact will cut crime, to treat people with, for example, tags.

"That will be a choice at the time for whatever is better for the situation that we’re dealing in."

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He added: "This new offence specifically allows for [six month sentences] because we have seen an increase in assaults on shop workers.

"I don’t think that’s right, and there’s been a campaign… to demonstrate the seriousness with which we take this issue, but also to make sure that we send a strong signal and deterrent to criminals."

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty

Mr Sunak also pointed out that the government had been building new prison space to enable courts to lock up more criminals.

Asked what message he would send to retail workers, Mr Sunak said: "We’ve got your back".

He added that "they should be able to go about their day to day lives without fear of being assaulted by people."

Supermarket staff has suffered a rise in attacks over the last few years
Supermarket staff has suffered a rise in attacks over the last few years. Picture: Getty

Ministers had previously ruled out creating a separate criminal offence, insisting it was not "required".

Mr Sunak said in an earlier statement: "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."

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Judges already have the power to ban repeat offenders from certain shops under criminal behaviour orders, with breaches bringing a maximum sentence of five years.

It comes after growing calls from this within the retail industry to bring in tougher measures to deter shoplifters from stealing and assaulting staff.

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Around 47,000 people in the UK have signed a petition that calls for the creation of a separate offence of assaulting a retail worker.

Meanwhile, incidents against shopworkers increased by 50 per cent between 2021 and 2023, according to data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Helen Dickinson, chairwoman of the BRC, welcomed the announcement, saying that "the voices of the three million people working in retail are finally being heard".

She said: "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."

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Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Government's proposals were "a pale imitation" of her own party's plans.

She said: "Under the Tories too many communities and high streets are being blighted by staggering increases in shoplifting, up 30% in the last year alone.

"Labour has been calling for tougher action against those who assault shopworkers for more than 10 years. The Tories opposed and voted against our plans for better protection. Why has it taken them so long to act?"