Warning over violence against retail workers amid record shoplifting offences

Police are being urged to take tougher action against attacks on retail workers amid record levels of theft and violence against shop staff.

It comes after Co-op said that it had logged more than 300,000 incidents of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour in its shops last year. The number of assaults increased by a third to more than 1,300. Co-op is the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer with more than 2,500 local, convenience and medium-sized stores.

A report commissioned by Co-op and authored by Emmeline Taylor, professor of criminology at City, University of London, set out a 10-point plan aimed at turning the tide on the increase in crime, violence, intimidation and abuse.

The Co-op said the increase in crime came despite it introducing more than £200m of preventative measures over recent years to make its stores and communities safer.

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.

“Crime is an occupation for some – it is not petty crime, and it is not victimless. It is imperative MPs don’t turn their backs on shopworkers and vote through the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to give my colleagues the protection they deserve.”

An offence of attacking a shopworker is an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which is soon to be debated in parliament.

Prof Taylor said: “The police in England and Wales have lost grip on the scale and severity of acquisitive crime, and, in turn, retailers have lost confidence in them and the wider criminal justice system.

“By taking decisive action to tackle high-volume, high-impact retail crime, the police and retail industry can work together to create safer communities in which to live, work and shop.”

Assaults at Co-op increased by a third to more than 1,300 last year
Assaults at Co-op increased by a third to more than 1,300 last year

Office for National Statistics data published last month showed that the number of shoplifting offences logged last year soared to their highest level since records began two decades ago.

More than 402,000 offences were recorded in the year to September 2023 in England and Wales, up from 304,459 in the previous 12 months.

It is the first time since current records began in 2002 that the number recorded by police has risen higher than 400,000. The previous peak of 382,643 was recorded in the year to March 2018.

The stark figures came as the cost of living crisis continued to bite across the country.

A survey published earlier in January found eight in 10 people (84 per cent) expect this January to be the toughest yet financially due to rising costs and Christmas spending. 

The study, by Nationwide, also found energy costs and added debt were factors affecting people’s finances.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), a trade association representing shops and business across the UK, has called on the government to take tougher action against theft and violence in stores.

Graham Wynn, assistant director of business regulation at the BRC, said: “Shoplifting is not a victimless crime, it costs retailers, and ultimately customers, almost £1bn a year, money that would be better used to reduce prices for everyone.

“Retailers are working hard, trying to tackle this issue, spending hundreds of millions on security staff, CCTV, security tags, and other anti-crime measures.

“More police action is needed as without an effective deterrent, criminals will continue to steal with impunity.”

The government previously said it was committed to tackling shoplifting and violence against retail workers.