Government plans to punish people who assault retail workers

Industry pressure leads to new measures to tackle retail crime

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The UK government has bowed to pressure from the retail industry and is to create a standalone criminal offence for assaulting retail workers. This follows a concerted campaign by trade bodies, the trade union Usdaw, and individual retailers due to the rise in retail crime in recent years. Scotland introduced a specific offence in 2021.

Retail crime plan launched by government

The proposed law is a part of a range of measures launched by the Home Secretary, James Cleverly and the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, Chris Philp, in a plan to tackle retail crime, which include:

  • maximising the use of facial recognition technology for the prevention and detection of retail crime
  • making reporting of crime easier and ensuring the police work more effectively with businesses
  • expanding the use of electronic monitoring for prolific shoplifters
  • improving sharing of good crime prevention practice among retailers
  • making it harder for stolen goods to be sold online. Social media platforms were given added responsibilities under the Online Safety Act 2023 and the government is now ensuring requirements to prevent users encountering illegal content, including adverts for stolen goods, will be properly regulated by Ofcom.

Measures welcomed by retail industry but concerns about facial recognition

The government’s announcement was welcomed by Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium who said: “After relentless campaigning for a specific offence for assaulting retail workers, the voices of the 3 million people working in retail are finally being heard.

“The impact of retail violence has steadily worsened, with people facing racial abuse, sexual harassment, threatening behaviour, physical assault and threats with weapons, often linked to organised crime. Victims are ordinary hardworking people – teenagers taking on their first job, carers looking for part-time work, parents working around childcare.”

However, there were concerns expressed by civil liberty campaigners about the expanded use of facial recognition technology for policing.

Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch said: “It is completely absurd to inflict mass surveillance on the general public under the premise of fighting theft whilst police are failing to even turn up to 40% of violent shoplifting incidents or to properly investigate many more serious crimes.”

New law builds on previous initiatives

The government had previously amended the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act which created a statutory aggravating factor to assaults committed against those “providing a public service or performing a public duty”. Despite this, retailers and trade bodies claimed the police were still not taking crime against retail workers and hospitality staff seriously.

A number of programmes to tackle retail crime were launched last year, including the Retail Crime Action Plan, commissioned by the government and developed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC); and Project Pegasus that is supported by 13 retailers including the Co-op, Tesco and the John Lewis Partnership, and funds a Police team of specialist staff to focus on tackling retail crime. The NPCC claimed in February that its plan had already had a positive impact, including improved attendance by Police when shoplifting was reported.  

The most recent British Retail Crime Survey 2024 Report showed that between 1st September 2022 and 31st August 2023 the number of violent or abusive incidents against retail staff rose to 1,300 from almost 870 per day the year before. Meanwhile incidents of customer theft rose to 16.7 million up from 8 million the year before. The cost of theft rose above £1billion for the first time to £1.8billion or just under £5 million a day. Additionally, retailers spent £1.2billion on crime prevention measures, up from £720 million the previous year. 

How we can help tackle retail crime

Ecl-ips has a range of solutions that could support retailers to tackle crime within shops and retail parks. These include:

If you are a retailer or security company that provides services to retail businesses, we can support you with crime prevention and security measures that can help to make retail workers feel safer and protect shop goods. If you would like to know more about all of our security solutions, please contact us.