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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Prime Minister to clampdown on shoplifting violence – but will it make a difference?

Shopworkers have been pleading for help across the country as shoplifting, threats and assaults on shop workers spiral out of control. Many shopworkers are now facing anxiety going to work and the fear of violence if they try to confront shoplifters.

In response to this, PM Rishi Sunak has taken action, with new tougher measures and the message: “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 main new measure to be introduced is that assaulting a retail worker will be made a standalone criminal offence. Offenders could be sent to prison for up to 6 months and could receive an unlimited fine.

They could also receive criminal behaviour orders barring them from visiting the premises involved, and electronic tagging for repeat offenders.

For the most serious cases of causing grievous harm with intent, offenders could face a life sentence.

However, although tough talk and new measures are positive, but what do the victims, the hard-working shop workers that are on the receiving end of constant harassment and violence, think about this?

The Asian Standard visited one particularly hard-hit shopping area, in Harold Hill in the London Borough of Havering to find out.

A store worker commented: “I have been assaulted; my staff have been assaulted. We don’t feel safe.”

Talking with the supervisor of the Iceland store, they described the situation: “We face a constant day to day battle with thieves coming into the shop, and to stop them coming back.”

I asked if there had been any incidents of violence to staff.

“On multiple occasions. We had an incident last month where one of our colleagues confronted a shoplifter with a bag of shoplifting. He came back an hour later and started pushing and shoving him. We contacted the police, but they didn’t take a statement until a couple of weeks later.

We also recently had a security guard punched in the face by a teenager.

It’s a big issue around here and we feel it’s not being heard.”

I put forward the government’s new measures, and asked if he thought they would be effective: “I do not think it’s enough. It’s not an incentive to stop them coming back. We have multiple criminals that have been arrested before, but they still come back.”

I asked what he feels would make a difference: “Realistically if they had a place here that we could go to for help, or even group of police that could check up on things, which would make it safer.”

The Asian Standard also talked to a team leader at The Co-op.

“We have been threatened both physically and verbally. We are now told not to approach shoplifters, because they are often violent and may be carrying weapons.

One of the security guards was hit with a wine bottle. We do have a security guard but only one – sometimes the shoplifters come in in groups. There is only so much that they can do.”

The manager gave another example: “Two men came in, started filling up their bags. I didn’t stop them because there were two of them. Some of my colleagues tried to stop them, and also a customer tried to help. They went over the alcohol section and started smashing all the wine bottles. There was glass everywhere, wine everywhere.”

I asked how the police have responded: “Honestly? I think I have only seen them show up once – and the following day. I think it’s now so common that unless someone is being physically hurt, they don’t come”.

I outlined the new changes to the law, and asked for their thoughts: “It is a good start, but I think that they should look at other options as well. They should look at the needs of the community more.

The main problem right now is people can come in, take what they want, and you are frightened to physically approach them. If there was something to stop this then that would make things a lot better.

More police around would help, and for them to actually show up when needed. If there were more police around it would do more to stop people being terrorised.”

There has been some positive response to the new measures. Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “After relentless campaigning for a specific offence for assaulting retail workers, the voices of the 3 million people working in retail are finally being heard.

The impact of retail violence has steadily worsened, with people facing racial abuse, sexual harassment threatening behaviour physical and threats with weapons, often linked to organised crime. Victims are ordinary hardworking people – teenagers on their first job, carers looking for part – time work, parents working around childcare.

The 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.”

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