Prime Minister launches retail crime crackdown

Serial or abusive shoplifters will face tougher punishments as the Prime Minister sets out tough new action to crack down on retail crime and protect UK highstreets.

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. 

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.

The move to create the new offence follows longstanding campaigning on this issue from Matt Vickers MP, and some of the biggest retailers, calling for more action to better protect their staff. 

The government is also stepping up action to clamp down on offenders who repeatedly target the country’s high streets, with serial offenders forced to wear tags to track their movements. 

These tags will be a constant and physical reminder to offenders that the Probation Service can find out where they have been and when, and that they risk being sent to prison if they refuse to obey the rules. Under an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, if an offender is found guilty of assaulting staff three times, or is sentenced for shoplifting on three separate occasions, they should be made to wear a tag as part of any community order.

Ahead of this legislation coming in, the government will partner with a police force to pilot a bespoke package of community sentencing measures which can be used by judges to tackle high levels of shoplifting, sending a clear message that repeat criminality will not be tolerated.

The government is also ramping up the use of facial recognition technology to help catch perpetrators and prevent shoplifting in the first place. Backed by a £55.5m investment over the next four years, the police will be able to further roll this new state of the art technology. This will include £4m for bespoke mobile units that can be deployed to high streets across the country with live facial recognition used in crowded areas to identify people wanted by the police – including repeat shoplifters.

The mobile units will take live footage of crowds in towns and on highstreets, comparing images to specific people wanted by the police or banned from that location. Police in the area will then be alerted so they can track down these offenders.  

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Since 2010, violent and neighbourhood crime in England and Wales has fallen dramatically, showing our plan to keep our streets safe is working. Yet shoplifting and violence and abuse towards retail workers continues to rise.

“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 action set out today builds on the successes already through the police’s Retail Crime Action Plan, which was commissioned by the Crime and Policing Minister, Chris Philp last year.

This included a range of measures, such as a police commitment to prioritise urgently attending the scene of shop theft involving violence against a shop worker, where security guards have detained an offender or where attendance is needed to secure evidence, which is showing signs of progress.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and its members welcome the government’s introduction of a standalone offence for assaulting a retail worker. For over five years the BRC, along with retailers, other trade associations and unions, have campaigned for a standalone offence for a retail worker, to create transparency about the scale of the issue and to help police to allocate resources to deal with it.

Responding to the announcement, Helen Dickinson OBE, 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 have finally been 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. The BRC 2024 Annual Crime Survey showed record levels of violence and abuse, with incidents soaring to over 1,300 per day last year, compared to 870 the year before.

“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 this abusive behaviour will not be tolerated. It will improve the police response, which has historically been poor, as police will now have the necessary data to understand the scale of the problem and allocate sufficient resource to address this issue.

“Retailers are playing their part, spending over £1bn last year on crime prevention measures. Government has taken action, and it is vital that 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.”

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