‘Enough is enough’: PM launches crackdown on serial shoplifters ripping off Britain's retailers as new offence created

10 April 2024, 00:01 | Updated: 10 April 2024, 06:54

Sunak has declared 'enough is enough'
Sunak has declared 'enough is enough'. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Rishi Sunak has launched a fresh crackdown on serial shoplifters, with the Government to make assaulting a shopworker a criminal offence.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

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

But the Government has now changed its position, with the prime minister announcing that the Criminal Justice Bill would be amended to bring in the new offence.

"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," Mr Sunak said.

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

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty
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

The new offence 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.

Repeat offenders will also be made to wear an electronic tag, as could consistent shoplifters, under amendments to the Bill currently making its way through Parliament.

Read More: Sainsbury's introduces AI security cabinets in latest bid to tackle spike in shoplifting

Read More: Sunak threatens to leave ECHR if Rwanda plan is blocked as he says border control ‘more important than membership’

The Government also plans to pilot community sentencing measures with an as-yet unnamed police force to tackle high levels of shoplifting, along with greater use of facial recognition technology to identify people wanted by the police in crowded areas.

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.

Co-Op chief speaks to Nick about why shoplifting is on the rise

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."

ASDA chairman Lord Rose discusses the 'shoplifting epidemic' with Nick Ferrari

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?"