Violence against retail workers: the law & what it means for retailers

  • Podcast 21 May 2024 21 May 2024
  • UK & Europe

The recent government announcement that the assault of a shop worker is to be made a separate criminal offence in England & Wales is an encouraging development but also means that retailers will also need to review their approach to health & safety.

The increase in assaults on retail workers over recent years has led to many retailers making great strides in tackling the issue, largely through investment in crime prevention measures, such as increased security staff, CCTV and body-cams. The new standalone criminal offence is very welcome, but it brings with it an increased focus for retailers, and therefore not just a need to review existing risk assessments and training procedures when the offence is enacted, but a need to get ahead of the curve now. 

The British Retail Consortium’s Crime Survey highlighted one of the reasons for the increase in violence as being a lack of police response and, crucially, the perception that a violent incident would not attract police attention. These drivers have fed directly into the new offence, which puts police involvement and a collaborative approach between the retail industry and the police at its heart.  Our retail clients should therefore be scrutinising their existing training procedures, risk assessments and crime prevention measures to ensure that they are robust enough to sit alongside the new offence and the increased duties on the police. 

The penalties for those found guilty of the new offence include being banned from the shop where the crime was committed and being forced to wear a tag so that their movements can be tracked. To be successful, the duty to enforce a ban and monitor a tag cannot rest with the police alone, and retailers must make sure their security procedures are adequate and that channels of communication to security staff and the local police force are open, direct and effective. More guidance around how this will work in practice is needed, but it seems certain that retailers will be required to keep some sort of log of “offenders” and develop a proportionate system for dealing with them. 

In line with the new offence, a specialist new police team set up last year is building intelligence on organised retail crime gangs funded through ‘Pegasus’, a first-of-its-kind business and policing partnership backed by 14 of the UK’s biggest retailers, National Business Crime Solutions and the Home Office. The unit forms part of Opal, the national police intelligence unit for serious organised acquisitive crime. Clearly, the success of this partnership is heavily contingent on the input of the retailers. The initiative includes development of a new information sharing platform, as well as training for retailers on appropriate information and intelligence to share with policing. 

There potentially needs to be  a revised approach to risk assessments, training procedures and data collection undertaken by large retailers in particular, from all-purpose to store-by-store where proportionate. The effectiveness of enforcing a ban from a particular store, identifying a repeat offender or de-escalating a potentially violent incident hinges on the systems in place being specific to that store. Large retailers should consider the recorded history of relevant incidents on a store-by-store basis and implement measures accordingly. For example, some stores might merit more security personnel than others. Risk assessments are more important now than ever. They will need to be detailed, potentially specific to each store where there is elevated risk, regularly reviewed, and reviewed after any relevant incident. Staff should potentially be encouraged to input into risk assessments and propose control measures, including environmental measures such as security screens, to give the best chance for all foreseeable hazards or dangers to be identified. 

Now that the issue has been addressed in a standalone criminal offence, the concern is that civil courts will be looking at the issue of liability in a new light. They are likely going to be less tolerant of retailers who fail to align their training procedures, security/deterrent measures and risk assessments with the new criminal offence. It is therefore important that we and our clients turn our attentions to this now. 


Additional authors:

Callum Murray, Senior Associate

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