Tougher sentencing for offenders found guilty of assaulting shop staff could come into force in just a few months, depending on the success of parliamentary debates.
At the end of last year, policing minister Kit Malthouse backed a change to an amendment in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to make it an offence to assault anyone providing a public duty, including independent retailers.
The move marked a two year- long battle by retailers and trade bodies for assaults to be taken more seriously. An industry source told betterRetailing last week: “I imagine the bill could become law in the next couple of months, but it depends how quickly amendments are agreed upon.”
As it stands, the bill is currently going back and forth between the House of Commons and Lords. “It’s a bit like a Christmas tree, in the sense that lots of amendments have been hung on it,” added the source. “This period of time is where a lot of points are discussed that don’t directly relate to the retail side of things.”
The legislation covers major proposed changes on crime and justice in England and Wales, with the most controversial part looking to give the police new powers to stop protests if they are deemed to be too noisy and disruptive.
Despite potentially delaying the rollout, the source said: “I don’t anticipate there will be any problems to the amendments relating to protecting shopworkers as they have been put forward by government and don’t need any more backing.”
In Scotland, The Protection of Workers Act 2021 has been law since last August, and in the first three months of coming into force, almost 300 cases of abuse against shop staff were reported to the police.
The igures, shared by the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF), were generated by the Scottish Business Resilience Centre between 24 August and 30 November. Overall, 285 incidents of threats and abuse were reported, all of which are being investigated.
SGF’s head of policy, John Lee, said the data shows how the law “is much needed and that store owners and their staff are unafraid to use it”.
He added: “What’s more, it’s reassuring to see how seriously Police Scotland is treating the complaints made, with every incident reported either having been investigated or under active investigation. This gives retailers con idence that these crimes are being taken seriously.”
Elsewhere, Sussex police and crime commissioner (PCC) and chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) Katy Bourne chaired the irst meeting of her retail and business crime portfolio last month.“
This was attended by every PCC in the country, and this type of attendance is unheard of,” she said. “Everyone was tasked with setting up their own business crime partnership, speci ic to their patch. “This is a great opportunity for PCCs to speak to local businesses in their area, assess budgets and igure out how they could resource ighting crime.”
So far, Bourne’s ‘One Touch Reporting’ pilot scheme, launched in Sussex last year in conjunction with 22 Co-op stores to help make the process of reporting crime easier, has helped log more than 600 incidents.
When asked about her plans to roll this out to more stores, Bourne told betterRetailing: “We’ve got stores banging down our doors asking us when they are going to get it. It took a lot of resources to get this up and running, especially as we created a new team dedicated to dealing with business crime.
“We have to be careful because we don’t want to over stretch resources and diminish con idence when we have spent so long building it back up. We are assessing budgets right now – there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes.”
Bourne added: “In the meantime, we are also looking at out-of-court disposal programmes, which will allow us to work with wellknown offenders, especially those with drug or alcohol issues, to see how we can deter them from crime.”
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