The UK government has launched a comprehensive crackdown on retail crime, introducing new measures to protect retail workers and curb criminal behavior on high streets across the country.

Assaulting a retail worker will be made a standalone criminal offence, sending a clear message that there will be tough consequences for this unacceptable behaviour. 

According to the Government, perpetrators could be sent to prison for up to six months, receive an unlimited fine and be banned from going back to the shop where they committed their crimes, with Criminal Behaviour Orders barring them visiting specific premises. Breaching an order is also a criminal offence and carries a five-year maximum prison sentence. For the most serious cases of assault, such as causing grievous bodily harm with intent, offenders could face a life sentence.

Key highlights of the new initiatives include:

  1. Assaulting a Retail Worker as a Standalone Criminal Offense: Assaulting a retail worker will now be recognised as a standalone criminal offense. Perpetrators could face up to six months in prison, an unlimited fine, and a ban from returning to the shop where the offense occurred. For serious cases of assault, such as causing grievous bodily harm with intent, offenders could receive a life sentence.
  2. Tougher Punishments for Serial Offenders: Serial or abusive shoplifters will face tougher punishments, including wearing tags to track their movements. Repeat offenders could be required to wear tags as part of any community order, serving as a constant reminder of potential consequences for their actions.
  3. Facial Recognition Technology: The government will invest £55.5 million over the next four years to ramp up the use of facial recognition technology by the police. Mobile units equipped with live facial recognition capabilities will be deployed to high streets across the country to identify wanted individuals, including repeat shoplifters.
  4. Enhanced Police Response: Police forces will prioritise attendance at the scene of retail crime incidents involving violence towards shop staff or where evidence needs to be secured. Specialised police teams will gather intelligence on organised retail crime gangs to improve law enforcement efforts.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: 

There is quite simply no excuse for threatening behaviour or stealing – which can run other people’s livelihoods into the ground, while being traumatic for workers. 

To turn a blind eye to retail crime shakes the foundations of law and order which protect our society and that is unacceptable. We are enhancing our plan and doubling down on the zero-tolerance approach needed to fight back. 

The number of offenders being charged for these crimes is increasing and while I want to see more people face consequences for their actions, our plan is designed to help put a stop to these crimes happening in the first place.

Home Secretary James Cleverly. Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp added:

Sadly if you speak to anyone working in retail, they will tell you of the verbal abuse and sometimes violent assaults they’ve been victims of, simply for trying to do their job. 

In no other work place would this be accepted. I have been driving forward action to improve the police response to retail crime since I became Policing Minister, because nothing less than a zero-tolerance approach will do.

That’s why today we’re sending a clear message to criminals that enough is enough bringing forward further measures to protect retail workers and crack down on those who continuously disregard the law.

The government’s initiatives have received widespread support from various stakeholders, including retailers and industry associations. The Co-op Group, the British Retail Consortium, and major retailers such as John Lewis Partnership, Sainsbury’s, and Boots UK & Ireland have welcomed the measures, emphasising the importance of protecting retail workers and maintaining safety in stores.

Paul Gerrard, Campaigns and Public Affairs Director of The Co-op Group, said:

The Co-op sees every day the violence and threats our colleagues, like other retail workers, face as they serve the communities they live in.

We have long called for a standalone offence of attacking or abusing a shopworker and so we very much welcome the Government’s announcement today.

The Co-op will redouble our work with police forces but these measures will undoubtedly, when implemented, keep our shopworkers safer, protect the shops they work in and help the communities both serve.

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said:

After relentless campaigning for a specific offence for assaulting retail workers, the voices of the three 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.

This announcement sends a clear message that abusive behaviour will not be tolerated and it is vital the police use this new legislation to step up their response to incidents. Together, we must stamp out this scourge in crime that has been sweeping the nation and ensure retail workers are given the vital protections they deserve.

Sharon White, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, said: 

Retail crime is never victimless – it costs retailers over £1 billion every year and can have a huge impact on the shop workers involved. 

We’ve long called for violence towards retail workers to be recognised as a standalone offence so welcome this announcement, which sends a clear message that abuse will never be tolerated. It will help deter acts of aggression, and allow police to drive prosecutions should instances escalate.

Simon Roberts, Sainsbury’s CEO, said:

There is nothing more important to us than keeping our colleagues and customers safe. 

Alongside our own security measures like colleague worn cameras, in store detectives and security barriers, today’s announcement is a vital next step in enabling our police forces to clamp down further.

We fully endorse and support this legislative focus and action on driving down retail crime.

Seb James, Managing Director, Boots UK & Ireland, said:

We welcome the measures announced by the government today.

Intimidation and abuse of retail workers is unacceptable, so legislation to strengthen shopworker protection sends a powerful signal and deterrent and we look forward to working with the Home Office, police, and local community partners to put these plans into action.

At Boots, we also continue to invest in our own capability to disrupt and deter criminal activity and protect our team members, including in our CCTV monitoring centre and body worn video cameras.

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