Assaulting a retail worker to become specific criminal offence

  • Occupational Health
Assault on retail worker
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

Prime Minister announces that assaulting a shop worker will become a separate criminal offence in England and Wales

The new offence would mirror Scotland’s approach, where assault or abuse of staff has been a specific offence since 2021.

Co-op, the supermarket chain, published figures earlier this year showing a 50% rise in violence in their stores, equating to 1,300 incidents a day – up from 870 incidents a day in 2022.

Previously, the Government had responded to a petition for a change in the law by saying “we do not think more legislative change is required or will be most effective.”

However, PM Rishi Sunak now says he is concerned about an increase in attacks. He said the new law was about “sending a message” to criminals stealing from local businesses or abusing shop workers that “enough is enough”.

British Retail Consortium (BRC) Chair Helen Dickinson welcomed the announcement, saying “the voices of the three million people working in retail are finally being heard”.

The new offence, as outlined in the Criminal Justice Bill (currently being considered by Parliament) will carry a maximum sentence of six months.

Perpetrators could receive an unlimited fine and be banned from the shop where they committed the offence.

Tags are proposed for serial offenders, who could be forced to wear them to track their movements. £50m is budgeted for facial recognition technology to aid these measures.

Dedicated facial recognition units will be used in high streets to catch perpetrators and prevent shoplifting. Police have been told to check more CCTV images against police databases.

Transform Justice, a charity who advocate for ways to resolve crime without going to court, argued that a specific offence will not reduce attacks on shop workers:

“Short prison sentences (any sentence up to a year) drive increased reoffending. No rehabilitative work can be done with prisoners on short sentences and imprisonment tends to create homelessness, unemployment, and family breakdown. All these are drivers to reoffending.”

The Government’s Bill proposes that, in more serious cases, offenders found guilty of grievous bodily harm will face jail sentences.

But anyone convicted of the new offence would not routinely go to prison.

The Sentencing Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, would mean sentences of 12 months or less would be suspended and served in the community, although a prison sentence could be imposed in exceptional circumstances.

Labour’s shadow chancellor Yvette Cooper, noted that creating a new specific offence of assault against shop workers is already Labour policy:

“Labour has been calling for tougher action against those who assault shop workers 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?”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said:

“As the majority of shoplifting cases go unsolved, the Conservatives have repeatedly failed to get even the basics right of tackling this issue - something their new gimmicks won't change.”

The government will introduce the new offence in its Criminal Justice Bill, which is currently being considered by Parliament.

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