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BIRA applauds new law protecting retail workers

BIRA has welcomed the government’s decision to make assaulting a shop worker a separate criminal offence in England and Wales.

The move comes amidst a rise in retail crime and abuse faced by those working in shops. Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak said the new law aims to send a clear message to criminals that ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to stealing from local businesses or abusing shop staff.

BIRA said the retail sector has been calling for greater protections for shop workers. Andrew Goodacre, ceo, commented: “For some time, BIRA along with the wider retail sector, has been calling for more protection for people who work in shops. We are delighted with this announcement, especially as we are dealing with a significant increase in retail crime.”

The new offence will carry a maximum sentence of six months. Perpetrators could also receive an unlimited fine and be banned from the shop where they committed the offence.

Serial offenders could be forced to wear tags so their movements can be tracked and £50m will be spent on facial recognition technology. 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.

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. The government has promised reforms to free up prison space in response to overcrowding due to tougher sentences and court backlogs.

The need for action is underscored by BIRA’s 2024 retail crime survey. It revealed that 35.5% of respondents experienced verbal abuse from individuals in their shops, though this marked a 7.5% decrease from six months prior. Alarmingly, 66% of those subjected to verbal abuse chose not to report it.

For incidents reported to police, 29% indicated authorities did not attend the scene. And of cases where police did respond, 57% did not lead to prosecution – an increase in non-prosecution levels compared to the previous survey.

Physical attacks and threats remain prevalent as well. Nearly 8% of shopkeepers experienced violence, including threats with weapons like needles, knives and even a hammer being thrown. 70% did not report the physical assaults to police.

Andrew added: “While we’re encouraged by the government’s commitment to tackle this unacceptable abuse, these figures underscore the need for real reform and resources to ensure shopkeepers feel protected. BIRA and the entire retail community appreciate this vital first step.”



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