Bedfordshire’s new Police and Crime Commission and the Labour MP for Bedford and Kempston have shown their support for the Borough’s shopkeepers by supporting a change in the law.
On Monday 5 July, 100s of the UK’s leading retailers – including Aldi, Greggs, John Lewis, Boots, McDonald’s, Sainsbury’s and Tesco – wrote to the Prime Minister calling on him to support an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that would tackle escalating violence and abuse against retail workers.
The Bill had its third reading in Parliament on Monday 5 July and was approved by 365 votes to 265.
Despite a recommendation from the Home Affairs Select Committee that new laws were required, none of the amendments was approved, however, ministers have said they will look to strengthen the law on violence against shop workers.
“The issue requires more urgent action”
Defending his vote for the Bill, North East Bedfordshire MP, Richard Fuller (Conservative) told the Bedford Independent that there was already a wide range of offences that apply to those in frontline roles and said that the issue requires, “more urgent action rather than a change in the law.”
“Everyone should feel safe at work which is why assaults on shop workers – who are doing vital work for the country and the economy and kept shops stacked during the pandemic – are simply unacceptable,” said Mr Fuller.
“There are already a wide range of offences which apply to people whose work brings them into contact with members of the public such as common assault, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, harassment and other public order offences which criminalise threatening or abusive behaviour intended to harass, alarm or distress a person.
“This issue requires more urgent action rather than a change in the law to improve support for victims and ensure perpetrators face justice.
“They include working with the National Retail Crime Steering Group (NRCSG) on a best practice guide to support staff in reporting these crimes, strengthening and making full use of existing laws, and improving data sharing between businesses and the police.”
Mr Fuller also said that courts have a statutory duty to follow sentencing guidelines which allow them to increase sentences for assaults against those serving the public.
“It is an aggravating factor for an offence to be committed against a person who works in the public sector or who is providing a service to the public, such as a shop worker, and the Sentencing Council has set out guidelines that mean courts should be increasing sentences for assaults committed against those providing a service to the public, including shop workers.”
The letter from retailers to the PM comes just after a Home Affairs Select Committee report concluded that a new criminal offence is needed to protect retail workers from a “shocking upsurge in violence and abuse.”
“Everyone should feel safe at work which is why assaults on shop workers – who are doing vital work for the country and the economy and kept shops stacked during the pandemic – are simply unacceptable.
The British Retail Consortium’s most recent crime survey showed that there were 455 incidents of violence and abuse against retail workers in 2019.
Recent research by retailers shows that the rate of incidents has risen even further during the pandemic, as retailers have been working hard to ensure shops are safe and customers follow Covid-19 rules.
“I’ve chased a criminal down the road because it’s taken police too long to come”
One shopkeeper based in Bedford has been robbed three times in the last 14 years. She has written many letters to the policing minister, Kit Malthouse MP, to urgently request changes to the law.
Describing the current situation, she said: “Our shop has been targeted on a number of occasions. I have reported the crime as soon as the perpetrator has left the shop and been told that if the value of what has been taken is under £100 the police won’t attend.
“I’ve chased a criminal down the road myself because it’s taken the police too long to get here.”
She said that criminals know the police often won’t attend, so know that they will get away with it.
“Where crime is concerned we retailers do everything to report but when nothing gets done by the police in terms of action, you do lose the will to act sometimes.”
Speaking about her own experience of retail crime, she said: “It’s terrifying let me tell you. I told my husband I didn’t want to come back to the shop.
“These criminals know the law, they know they can’t be touched without solid evidence, they know their rights when they will get out of prison or police custody and they are laughing in the face of the law.”
Festus Akinbusoye, the newly elected Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire said he fully supported the business community’s call for greater protection for retail workers.
“Absolutely no one should have to go to work in fear of assault, abuse or violence of any kind.
“As Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire, I will be working closely with our local businesses in the coming months to discuss ways to better support them.”
The Bedford Independent has invited PCC Akinbusoye, Mr Fuller and Mr Yasin to meet with local retailers to hear their frontline experiences.
“Our retail businesses and their staff have played a critical role in ensuring our supermarkets, stores and shops are well stocked, and that we have the basic necessities of life,” said the PCC.
“This staggering increase in the level of assaults they face cannot be the norm, neither can the targeting of businesses by criminals. I will keep doing all I can to support this vital sector and work with Bedfordshire Police to tackle this concerning issue.”
Speaking on 5 July, Tom Ironside, director of business & regulation at the British Retail Consortium, said: “While we are disappointed that the amendments did not pass in the Commons on Monday, we welcome the Government’s commitment to consider an amendment in the Lords and to propose additional measures.
“We expect the Government to deliver on this commitment and to table a clear and effective amendment in the Lords that offers improved protection for retail workers.”
Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston supported the BRC’s demands, saying that there need to be consequences written in law to deter and bring about justice.
He said: “The Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill could have been an important opportunity, with some good and important reforms contained within and so it is frustrating that this amendment to protect retail workers was pushed aside, as were so many other proposals which if given the proper consideration they deserved, could have resulted in a Bill to bring about a wide range of crucial reforms.
“Instead, I could only vote against the Bill on Monday, given the many largely populist, divisive and disturbingly draconian measures hastily added to it without proper scrutiny.
“When it comes back to the House of Commons after scrutiny in the House of Lords, I will continue to press for meaningful reform and for the respect owed to all public-facing workers.”
Speak to retailers on the front line…
In a letter to MPs, the local shopkeeper said: “You need to take the time to speak to actual retailers on the front line. Those stories will make your hair stand on its ends.
“Not retail giants but local convenience stores and independents who are the backbone of their communities and also the ones that suffer the most.
“This issue needs solving. It needs its own law one where it’s not determined by value stolen, but as a criminal offence by prosecution or payment to retailers for stolen goods no matter the value stolen.”