PRITI PATEL has vowed to initiate a “crackdown on abuse and violence against shopworkers”.
The home secretary assured that the guilty will be made to face the law as her office published its response to a call of evidence regarding the issue on Tuesday (7).
“As the daughter of shopkeepers, I know what a vital role they play within our communities and just how tirelessly they have worked during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Patel.
“I will not tolerate violence and abuse against any shopworker, and it’s right that those who commit these crimes must be caught and punished.”
The call for evidence, which was open for 12 weeks, received responses from 3,500 individuals, businesses and organisations. While most of them noted a spike in abuse towards shop staff, a significant number said they did not report the incidents.
The Home Office said its latest response measures had been “designed to improve support for victims and ensure perpetrators face justice”.
Providing guidance to support staff on reporting such crimes, strengthening existing laws, and enhancing data-sharing between businesses and the police were some of the steps set to be initiated.
Furthermore, the crime and policing minister will write to police officers on the importance of working closely with local businesses, and “emphasising that the theft of goods valued up to £200 from a shop should be prosecuted as a criminal offence”.
“Shopworkers are the beating hearts of our communities and violence or abuse against them is utterly unacceptable,” said policing minister Kit Malthouse.
“Through the NRCSG, we are developing solutions which address concerns highlighted by the retail sector.
“We are determined to drive down these crimes and, crucially, ensure that shopworkers are fully supported in reporting incidents to the police.”
He added that the government was taking “action to tackle violent crime of all types”, and planned to recruit “20,000 new police officers over the next three years”.
The Home Office spokesperson said the government response was “designed to address the drivers of violence and assaults against shopworkers and provide effective support to victims”.
“In terms of sentencing, laws announced in the Queen’s Speech contain proposals for tougher community penalties, tackling the underlying drivers of offending such as mental health or drug and alcohol addiction,” she added.
“The Sentencing Council is reviewing its guidelines for courts on assault and published interim guidance in April 2020 clarifying that it should be treated as an aggravating factor when assault involves threats around Covid-19 (e.g. spitting or coughing). It is already an aggravating factor for an offence to be committed against anyone providing a service to the public.”
The British Retail Consortium welcomed the response, but said it was “no substitute for the message that a change in the law would send”.
“Recommendations to look at the sentencing council guidelines and sentencing legislation are welcome, along with the indication that offences against shopworkers can already be treated as aggravated, even though they seldom are,” said Tom Ironside, BRC director of business regulation and co-chairman of the NRCSG, told The Grocer.
James Lowman, CEO of the Association of Convenience Stores, said “warm words and working groups” were not enough as he called for “tougher penalties for attacks on shopworkers and more police resource to stamp out violence”.