PCC candidates respond to Government “crack down” on retail crime

Retail crime shoplifting generic image Mihail adobe stock. Image: Mihail/Stock.Adobe
Image: Mihail/Stock.Adobe

Candidates to be Bedfordshire’s next police and crime commissioner have responded to the prime minister’s action to “crack down on retail crime and protect UK high streets”.

The plans announced by Rishi Sunak on Wednesday (10 April) are to make assaulting a retail worker a standalone criminal offence.

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.

This will be enforced via a Criminal Behaviour Order, and 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.

The prime minister said on the government’s website: “I am sending a message to those criminals – whether they are serious organised criminal gangs, repeat offenders or opportunistic thieves – who think they can get away with stealing from these local businesses or abusing shopworkers, enough is enough.

“Our local shops are the lifeblood of our communities, and they must be free to trade without the threat of crime or abuse.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked the four Bedfordshire PCC candidates for their thoughts on the PM’s announcement.

Festus Akinbusoye (Conservative) said: “I welcome today’s announcement by the government creating a standalone offence of assaulting a retail worker, as part of wider efforts to tackle retail crime.

“Here in Bedfordshire, and through Operation Belleville, good progress is being made with the targeted enforcement against the most prolific shoplifters in our county.

“More than a hundred arrests have been made so far since January 2024.

“Progress is being made in tackling this issue, and we cannot afford to put it at risk.

“If re-elected as Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, I will build on this enforcement activity and ensure more attention is given to tackling retail crime in our county,” he said.

Jas Parmar (Liberal Democrat) said: “As a former postmaster, retailer for 37 years and victim of attempted armed robbery myself, clearly any message that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable is welcome.

“But shoplifting hasn’t just arrived in 2024, and using legislation to send a message just before an election – when they have been in power for more than a decade – doesn’t exactly replace the missing funding for Bedfordshire Police, or the fact that numbers of officers have barely kept up with population growth.

“What we need is real community policing, and a full time PCC, cutting waste at the centre, and proper funding for our police.

“Our police need proper support not new offences that simply duplicate existing offences.”

Labour’s candidate, John Tizard, said: “I welcome the government’s announcement that it will crack down on retail crime. Labour has been calling for such measures for many years and eventually the government is acting.

“I know from conversations with retail workers and shop owners across Bedfordshire that too often they feel threatened and intimidated when they are simply doing their job to serve us their customers.

“Shoplifting is increasing at a rapid rate across Bedfordshire. It is often gang and drug related.

“There must be crack down on this and all those working in shops must feel safe.

“If elected PCC, I would convene an advisory group of shop owners and staff, USDAW the shop workers’ trade union, local authorities and shopping centre managers to advise me and the police and the measures which all parties should be taking to address these heinous crimes.

“Doing this will make staff and customers safer, and boost our local retail businesses.”

The Workers Party of Britain candidate, Waheed Akbar, was celebrating Eid so said he needed more time to make an “informed decision” on the PM’s plans.

“In principle I like the idea to protect businesses and staff members,” he said.

“[I’m] also yet to see the plan in detail as whether consideration has [been] given to the root causes of the offences, and what role of the probation service will be in the given situation.”

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter