Written evidence submitted by Dunelm Soft Furnishings (VTR0001)
- Dunelm is the market leading retailer of Homewares in the UK and operates from 174 sites UK wide as well as on line at Dunelm.com.The business trades predominantly from edge of town and out of town locations and employs on average 60 colleagues per site .
- I am Head of Audit and Security for Dunelm having been in retail in various store based operational roles for over 35 years and am giving this evidence in the hope that something can be done to make working in a shop safer for the colleagues who nowadays have to put up with abuse , threats and intimidation almost on a daily basis and deserve greater protection.
Specifically commenting on the questions raised:
- The police response to incidents of abuse and violence towards retail workers :
- Our experience has been that our stores had stopped reporting these issues as it was seen as a waste of time as the police response was seen as poor with retail crime downgraded in response to streteched police resource.
- Our teams under our guidance now report on line as even getting an answer on 101 could take up to 30 minutes. If no one is injured and the thieves / abusers have left the store we are told they will not attend and in one recent report of assault in our store in Bolton the report was closed without an officer even attending the store to view the CCTV evidence and take a statement for the person who was assaulted . Another example is a known drug taker visited our Halifax store three times attempting to steal and verbally abusing the store team but there was no attendance at all.
- We understand police resources are stretched as are our own but it has reached the stage now that unless we dial 999 or press our Personal Attack Buttons the store colleagues are left to take the abuse and threats until the abuser gives up and leaves the store. There seems to be an escalation in abuse and threats with perpetrators trying to intimidate store colleagues to look away or give refunds for stolen items as the person doing this knows there is little chance of being caught and no consequence even if they are caught.
- COVID has amplified the issues with arguments over mask wearing, customers arguing with each other as well as store colleagues if they are challenged on mask wearing or social distancing . Some thoroughly disgusting individuals have even taken masks off and coughed on colleagues saying I have got COVID and I have given it to you.
- Reported incidents have risen by 30% in total against last year with verbal abuse up 400% on average per week and physical assault happening once or twice a week this year verses once a month last year.
Barriers to justice for victims of retail abuse and violence;
- Shop colleagues are scared and intimidated by threats of retribution if they report crimes or give evidence and don’t believe they have any protection and also see that even when offences are committed cautions have become the norm which has little deterrent effect on repeat offenders.
Whether a new aggravated offence is required
- A new offence would redress the balance and make it clear to those whose behaviour has degenerated to the current levels that society will not allow them to abuse and intimidate without consequence , shopworkers need the law to protect them when all they are doing is their job , they have a right to work in a safe environment and there is only so much physical security that the employer can be expected to provide. Intimidating / abusing when stealing has become a way of life for some and it needs stopped . Consequence and a severe penalty is the only way to change this behaviour for good
The adequacy of the Government’s response to its call for evidence.
- The response so far has stated that adequate redress exists within the current legal framework but the experience of shopworkers across the UK would say otherwise , the redress may be there but as its not used its not effective and has allowed the situation to deteriorate to the pint that only a new aggravated offence will stop the perpetrators