Labour manifesto to incorporate crackdown on violence in opposition to store employees

Labour’s manifesto will pledge laws to crack down on violence against shop staff, says Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper.

Ms Cooper said the party would take action to end the tide of aggression – and vowed to stop police ignoring thefts valued at under £200. Speaking to staff at a Co-op store, Ms Cooper heard harrowing tales of staff threatened with hammers and knives, and being sprayed with petrol.

She said: “It’s a disgrace shop workers have to endure this at work. Everybody should be able to feel safe. During Covid these were key workers who kept everything going. Labour is determined we will pass a new law to make a specific offence of assaults and abuse against shop workers and to make sure it’s taken seriously by the police.”

As Ms Cooper laid out Labour’s plans at the supermarket in Stapleford, Notts, new analysis showed shoplifting is soaring fastest in Tory areas across England. Of the 10 areas with the largest rises since 2015, Labour found seven have Tory Police and Crime Commissioners. The biggest increase was in Sussex, under Conservative crime czar Katy Bourne – more than doubling since 2015 to over 17,100 offences, or nearly 300 a week.

Other big increases came in Nottinghamshire, up by 92%, and West Mercia – which includes Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire – where shoplifting rose 58%. Nationally, incidents are up by 37% in just one year – to 49 every hour. Ms Cooper also promised to end the “shoplifters’ charter” under which police won’t press charges unless the value of stolen goods is over £200.

It has led to professional shoplifters stealing up to £180 of goods, then moving on to other stores. The criminals Ms Cooper wants to crack down on are not struggling people stealing out of desperation.

She said: “It’s organised gangs that are stealing lots of things to sell on. One shop told me they use bike locks to secure fabric conditioner, because groups were clearing whole shelves into a basket. That is people that are stealing it for sale.

“They might be trying to sell it in pubs, or stealing to order, to sell online. But it’s organised crime.” Paul Dennis, Central England Co-op’s head of food retail, said the group had spent £50million on safety kit for staff, including body cameras and watches to alert security if workers fear a situation may turn nasty.

Yvette Cooper Labours Shadow Home Secretary visits co-op in stapleford

Yvette Cooper visited a Co-op supermarket in Stapleford
Paul David Drabble)

But store manager John Hough said he had a stack of 50 CCTV files from across seven months – and only two had led to convictions. Group president Elaine Dean told of one staff member, a mum-of-two in Burton-on-Trent, being sprayed with petrol and told to empty the till as a thief flicked his lighter.

She said: “You can imagine, her whole life flashed before her eyes and she gave him the money. Police came, but nobody’s been caught. Mostly, you ring 999 and no one comes.”

Ms Cooper told us: “There’s a real feeling that when a crime is commit­­ted, no one comes and nothing’s done. There’s two reasons – the first is the police are so overstretched, and second the neighbourhood police have been lost. The very police who would have been working with local shops, who’d know about a wave of shoplifting or spotting an organised gang, have often disappeared.”

She added: “After 14 years of the damage the Conservatives have done to this country, their legacy on law and order is terrible. You’ve got more criminals getting off, more victims being let down, and 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police and PCSOs on our streets. We need to turn the page on that.” Labour has long campaigned alongside union USDAW to make violence against shopworkers a standalone offence.

The Tories finally agreed to include it in the Criminal Justice bill this year – but the bill was ditched when Rishi Sunak called the election.

Joe Fortune, General Secretary of the Co-operative Party said: “Shopworkers are tasked with upholding the law, but the law is failing to protect them. Safety at work should be a basic right, and Labour & Co-operative MPs have been calling on the Government for nearly a decade to take action on this issue.

“The Tories’ failure to deliver the standalone offence shopworkers need is just the latest in a series of failures. Only Labour has a plan to protect retail workers, tackle shoplifting and breathe life back into our high streets. It’s time for change with a Labour government.”

The Tories finally agreed to include it in the Criminal Justice Bill this year – but the bill was ditched when Rishi Sunak called the election. Joe Fortune, of the Co-operative Party, said: “Labour and Co-operative MPs have been calling on the government for nearly a decade to act. Only Labour has a plan to protect retail workers, tackle shoplifting and breathe life back into our high streets.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer promised another boost for high streets yesterday, overhauling business rates. Speaking at a brewery in his London constituency of Holborn and St Pan­­cras, he criticised the Conservatives’ failure to “fix” a system that has caused problems for firms for a “long time”.

The party is also pledging to accelerate the establishment of banking hubs, stamp out late payments of invoices by forcing large firms to report on their payment practices and crack down on antisocial behaviour to “revitalise” high streets. Mr Starmer said: “At the moment there’s not a level playing field between businesses that are online and those that are sort of bricks and mortar.”

Labour has also pledged to fix Britain’s prisons crisis by unblocking the planning process to build more jails. Shadow Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood also vowed to bring prison governors and local employers together to create Employment Councils, linking offenders to training and jobs to reduce reoffending.

Tory dithering has led to thousands of shop workers suffering physical and mental injury

By PADDY LILLIS – Usdaw General Secretary

VIOLENCE against shopworkers has more than doubled in a year, according to Usdaw’s latest annual survey, as official figures show that shoplifting has risen by over a third. Shoplifting is not a victimless crime, theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers. Having to deal with repeated and persistent shoplifters can cause issues beyond the theft itself like anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers.

The scale of the problem is clear and it needs robust action. Usdaw has long called for a standalone offence of assaulting a shopworker. It is supported by the Mirror and many leading retailers as well. We won the campaign in Scotland, now retail staff across the UK deserve the same protection. After 14 years of outright opposition from the Tories, in April the Government U-turned on the need to legislate, by announcing they would create a standalone offence in their Criminal Justice Bill.

This turned out to be a political stunt trying to undermine Labour’s commitment. I am now not convinced that they ever intended to follow through on this promise, after failing to support the Labour amendment, delaying the passage of the Bill and then allowing it fall before Parliament closed for a general election.

The Tories’ dither and delay on this issue over many years, has led to thousands of shop workers needlessly suffering physical and mental injury. It is an absolute disgrace to play games with the lives retail staff who are key workers in every community, on the front line suffering unprecedented violence, abuse and threats in a shop crime epidemic. The Tory record is one of effectively decriminalising theft from shops.

This, among many reasons, is why we need a Labour Government. Labour is committed to deliver a protection of shop workers law. Labour will end the perverse £200 threshold for prosecuting shoplifters, which has effectively become an open invitation to criminals. Labour will provide more uniformed officers patrolling shopping areas and introduce town centre banning orders for repeat offenders.

We hope that fourteen years of Tory failure are about to come to an end, so that our members can secure the change they desperately need on this and many other issues. Shop workers must have the respect that they have long deserved and, regrettably, too often do not receive. We need Labour to deliver this.