• Abuse of shop workers nationally has hit half-a-million, according to new figures from the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS)
  • PCC Martin Surl has urged the public to act with compassion as new rules come in on Friday to ensure customers wear face coverings in shops
  • Locally at the start of lockdown, some incidents of shop worker abuse occurred in Gloucestershire. Gloucestershire Constabulary’s Head of Investigations, Det Supt Steve Bean says incidents of abuse will be taken seriously.

They were the unsung heroes of the pandemic. Key shop workers who carried-on when many others were furloughed and stayed at home.

And yet, research from the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has found that half a million shop workers have been assaulted physically or verbally for just doing their job. Police and Crime Commissioner, Martin Surl said: “This really makes me cross, they work hard and deserve nothing less than our thanks and respect.”

No figures are available for how many of those abused were in Gloucestershire but it has led to Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martin Surl appealing to the public ahead of new rules for shoppers coming into force.

Woman who has been shopping wearing a mask
Masks will be essential in order to enter a shop from Friday 24 July 2020

From this Friday (24 July 2020), it will become mandatory to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets in England, leading to concerns of a potential backlash towards shop staff.

Mr. Surl said,  “We all need to respect these rules and remember that people enforcing the wearing of face coverings in shops are just doing their jobs.

“No one should be verbally or physically abused in their workplace, and I know the constabulary is taking abuse against shop workers very seriously. It will not be tolerated in Gloucestershire, and I urge the public to act with kindness, compassion and respect towards our hard-working shop staff.”

Nationally, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has asked the government to take urgent action to stop the abuse and violence faced by people in retail who are simply doing their jobs. It has also launched a campaign urging shop staff to ‘Always Report Abuse’.

In the last year, a Home Office consultation on violence and abuse against shop workers found there had been more than 500,000 incidents of verbal abuse, threats and physical violence against people working in the sector.

Commenting on the situation locally, Gloucestershire Constabulary’s Head of Investigations, Det Supt Steve Bean said, “At the start of lockdown people were restricted on how many items they could buy. We saw a number of verbal and physical assaults against shop workers in Gloucestershire, and we do not want to see the same thing happen again with the introduction of compulsory face coverings.

“The retail industry has been absolutely outstanding during this national crisis, providing essential supplies and services whilst simultaneously maintaining measures to keep us all safe. They have quite literally been keeping the wheels of the country turning through what has been a very difficult time. I, like the vast majority of people, am extremely grateful to them for their hard work and effort, but unfortunately, a small minority of individuals act in a self-centred way and resort to violence and abuse.

“Please be reassured, we will robustly deal with those individuals and make it clear that this behaviour is totally unacceptable, not just in the eyes of the law, but in society in general.”

Retail crime meeting
A retail crime meeting led by DPCC Chris Brierley

Gloucestershire has already shown itself ahead of the game when it comes to addressing retail crime, following a drive from PCC Martin Surl in October 2019 for Gloucestershire Constabulary to prioritise shoplifting. The request was part of the PCC’s commitment to his policing mantra: ‘Every Crime Matters.’

Retailers welcomed new proposals, which accompanied a report into retail crime produced by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC). The 33-page review painted a picture of retail crime up nationally by 25% since the turn of the century and mapped out a new approach to:

  • Investigate every retail theft
  • Simplify the way retailers are able to report crime
  • Establish Crime Prevention Advisors to improve links with businesses
  • Improve information sharing, and improve partnership working.

Minister of State for Crime and Policing, Kit Malthouse said: Shopworkers are the beating hearts of our communities and violence or abuse against them is utterly unacceptable. Through the National Retail Crime Steering Group (NRCSG), we are developing solutions which address concerns highlighted by the retail sector.

“We are determined to drive down these crimes and crucially, ensure that shopworkers are fully supported in reporting incidents to the police. The Government is taking action to tackle violent crime of all types, including by recruiting 20,000 new police officers over the next three years.”