Source: Co-op

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 crime

The government is announcing measures today that will make assaulting a shop worker a specific criminal offence.

It follows calls from industry organisations for a robust response to a rise in threats and attacks on shop workers. Ministers had last year said there was no need to change the law.

The new offence will be included in the new Criminal Justice Bill which is being debated in Parliament. Separate rules apply in Scotland where assault or abuse of staff is already an offence.

The government says that the move – which also lays down harsher punishments for serial or abusive shoplifters – sends “a clear message that there will be tough consequences for this unacceptable behaviour”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “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.”

Under the new law, 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 as part of a Criminal Behaviour Order. Breaching such an order carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. The government adds that for the most serious cases of assault, such as causing grievous bodily harm with intent, offenders could face a life sentence.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has welcomed the measures, which “sends a clear message to local shops that retail crime will be taken seriously by the police and the wider justice system”, said chief executive James Lowman.

He added: “Our members face theft, violence, and abuse on a daily basis. Nobody should have to come to work and face what retailers and their colleagues have faced over the last year.”

Figures from the 2024 ACS Crime Report showed that retailers recorded over 600 incidents of theft an hour over the past year, along with around 76,000 incidents of violence in local shops.

The Petrol Retailers’ Association (PRA) also applauds what it is says are “proactive steps” to address the ”significant challenges” that retail crime causes its members.

“While the PRA understands the financial strain customers face due to the cost of living crisis, outright theft is not acceptable,” said PRA executive director Gordon Balmer. “Many of our members are businesses serving local communities, and the burden of carrying these increasing costs places additional pressure on margins required from fuel sales to sustain their businesses,” he added. 

“Our members have seen a troubling incease in forecourt drive-offs, where motorists refuel their vehicles without settling the bill and shoplifting, posing significant challenges to the financial viability and security of our members’ businesses.”