MPs urged to back Bill making abuse of shop workers standalone offence amid rise in cases

Retail giant Co-op is cracking down on violence against store staff with new 10-step plan, ITV News' Aisha Zahid reports

MPs are being urged to back an upcoming amendment to Criminal Justice Bill making the assault or abuse of shop workers a specific standalone offence.

Co-op has made the call in an attempt to crack down on rising levels of crime against its store staff.

A report, commissioned by the supermarket, and written by Professor of Criminology at City, University of London, Emmeline Taylor, found that staff are facing an “alarming” increase in crime, violence, intimidation and abuse.

There were more than 300,000 incidents of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour in Co-op stores last year, the report found.

The number of assaults increased by a third to more than 1,300.

This is despite the company introducing more than £200 million of preventative measures over recent years to make its stores and communities safer.

A large group attempts to barge their way through the doors of a Co-op store

Matt Hood, managing director of Co-op Food, said: “We are seeing far too many prolific offenders persistently steal large volumes of products, in our shops every day, and, if they are stealing to fund addictions, the situation often becomes volatile and dangerous.

Mr Hood urged the government to not "turn their backs" on staff, who are often faced with "volatile" and "dangerous" situations.

The amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill is soon to be debated in Parliament. The offence would carry a sentence of 12 months behind bars or a fine of up to £10,000.

In an interview with ITV News, the author of the report, Ms Taylor, outlined a 10-point plan of recommendations to help curb the abuse and violence.

"One of those recommendations is to target the stolen goods market," she said.

"We know that far too easily prolific shop thieves are selling produce on to other businesses to members of the community, perhaps using online marketplaces which are largely unregulated. 

"Another recommendation is to introduce a standalone offence for assaulting a shop worker who rare serving their communities. 

A similar piece of legislation was brought in in Scotland in 2021, and we’ve seen some really great successes from that piece of legislation being passed," she added.

A video shows thieves jumping behind the till in a Co-op shop to steal alcohol and cigarettes

Co-op has been warning about the rise of crime against its shop workers for several months now.

Mr Hood previously said that one shop can face as many as two or three incidents a week of thieves jumping the till counter to steal alcohol, cigarettes, and lottery cards.

One inner city London store was "looted" three times in a single day, he added.

Dean, a store manager in Manchester, told ITV News he "never expected that dealing with repeat, prolific offenders would become part of my daily job."

"These criminals come in and often loot whole shelves – clearly to sell on for money. We recently had one shoplifter in a full suit and who attempted to steal 20 steaks!

"When the Police are called and they don’t turn up, we simply have no other choice but to release the shoplifter," he added.

David, a Co-op shopkeeper in Leeds said three to four of his colleagues get abuse every day

David, a store manager in Leeds, told ITV News that shoplifting has increased since the pandemic.

"They come in with bags, sacks or clothing which can conceal hundreds of pounds of stock.

"They show you inside their coat, flash a knife or screwdriver - we also find needles nearby and these have been weaponised, used to threaten colleagues."

Alex Norris, shadow minister for policing, said: “Shop workers deserve dignity and respect. While the Tories take a back seat, Labour will introduce a new offence of abuse against shop workers so we can put an end to violence, threats and abuse at work.”

Minister for Policing Chris Philp did not immediately respond to ITV News' request for comment.

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