‘Violent attacks on shop workers not being responded to by police’

Police officers are not turning up to deal with violent attacks on shop staff because the criminal has already fled, a coalition of businesses and workers has said as it calls for a commitment to tackling unprecedented levels of theft.

The group has written to police and crime commissioners in England and Wales calling on forces to make it easier to pass on evidence and boost efforts to find repeat and violent offenders.

Its letter comes amid reports of record levels of shoplifting and even organised looting.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman said: “The unprecedented levels of shop theft being faced by retailers cannot be allowed to continue.

“We have set out a three-pronged approach for police forces across the UK to adopt and make it clear that they are committed to tackling the problem.

“Theft and abuse are a blight on communities, with addicts and criminal gangs repeatedly targeting hardworking retailers and their colleagues.

“These are not victimless crimes, and they must be investigated to bring the most prolific offenders to justice.”

The coalition is made up of business groups the ACS, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the British Independent Retail Association, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Federation of Independent Retailers and shopworkers’ union Usdaw.

A general view of supermarket shelves of fruit and veg.
Concerns have been raised about unprecedented levels of shoplifting (Caitlin Doherty/PA)

Its letter says: “Rather than seeing this as high volume, low value crime, we can recognise the opportunity it gives us to identify prolific offenders who blight communities by committing these and other crimes.

“You should expect retailers to provide good quality evidence on offenders, and they should expect this to be analysed, investigated and followed up with meaningful interventions for those individuals.

“We can break the cycle of reoffending if we take this opportunity to commit to this approach.”

It calls for police action in three areas:

– To make it easier for retailers to report crime and submit evidence. Currently systems are unclear and time-consuming, the group said.

– To identify prolific offenders behind most of the thefts and anti-social behaviour – it singles out Nottinghamshire and Sussex police forces for praise for their systems that focus on collecting data on the worst criminals.

– To prioritise gathering evidence related to violent attacks.

Chris Philp
Policing minister Chris Philp has called for a zero tolerance approach to shoplifting (PA)

The letter says: “We often see scenarios where violence against shopworkers is not responded to by the police because incidents do not meet forces’ threat, harm and risk criteria as offenders have left the premises after committing an offence.

“In the vast majority, if not all, of retail businesses there will be CCTV footage available to support police lines of inquiry into violent incidents.

“Therefore, we would like to see the proactive collection of evidence prioritised by police forces.”

The BRC has estimated that theft is costing retailers nearly £1 billion per year, while the ACS says 90% of workers have experienced verbal abuse in that period.

Both Home Secretary Suella Braverman and policing minister Chris Philp have already called on police to be tougher on shoplifting.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has been approached for comment.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retail crime is getting worse – thieves are becoming bolder, and more aggressive. Violent and abusive behaviour is on the rise.

“These confrontations might be over in a matter of minutes, but for many victims, their families and colleagues, the physical and emotional impact can last a lifetime.

“Retailers are working hard to reduce crime, investing nearly £1 billion into crime prevention measures in the last year. But now we need the police to do more to prioritise retail crime and bring levels of violence, abuse and theft down for good.”

Katy Bourne, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners lead for business and retail crime, said PCCs are working at a national level to improve the police response.

She said: “I completely understand the sectors’ frustration and their concerns for their members. I’ve seen for myself the fear, the harm and the damage that too many shop staff and retailers are experiencing.

“From the many businesses I have met it is sadly evident that, too often, the policing response they have received – assuming they got one – is not what they expect.

“However, we also cannot overlook the fact that police forces face a huge daily demand on their finite resources so they will have to prioritise a physical response based on the threat posed to staff and customers and the likelihood of catching up with the offender.”

Some forces are reviewing ways to make reporting shoplifting easier, while Sussex already has a number in place including one that reduces the time needed from 30 minutes to two.

There is also Operation Pegasus, a scheme to gather intelligence about organised crime groups who shoplift.

Ms Bourne, who is Sussex PCC, added: “I’d also like to see prolific shoplifters monitored with electronic tags, as happens with persistent domestic abuse perpetrators and burglars, so I’ll be raising this with ministers and officials.

“If we want to retain our villages and high streets and shopping malls as pleasant places to shop and visit we have to be more proactive, more imaginative and more robust. We can’t retreat and give up or our stores will close up.”