Written evidence submitted by Anonymous (VTR0018)

[Note: This evidence has been redacted by the Committee. “***” represents redacted text. Text in square brackets has been inserted where text has been redacted.] 


This document contains [a retailer’s] submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into violence and abuse towards retail workers, using insight from our store team members.

Police response to incidents of abuse and violence towards retail workers

  1. The police response varies across the UK, with some areas receiving excellent support, generally those in rural areas and small towns, and some areas needing better support – mainly those in cities.  We fully understand that police funding is tight and capacity limited, so they must prioritise where they can offer support. 


  1. In [our] experience, the London Metropolitan Police force is the least responsive force. These two incidents are examples of where we have asked for support from the Met and not received it:


-          [Branch in North London]: Two males entered the store and began to racially abuse a team member. Security and management intervened, triggering a violent outburst, with the males damaging the till area, racking and heating, while also throwing potted plants at team members. The police were called during the incident and a window of 30-60 minutes was given for their arrival however they failed to attend. A member of the police force called the store the following day and explained that on this occasion they were not able to attend the store as they did not think the situation was an emergency.

-          [Branch in South London]: A female who had previously been caught thieving from this store returned with a male and asked to speak to the store manager. While they waited for the store manager, the male walked around the store and told team members that he was looking for the security guard as he wanted to “fight him.” Team members found the security guard and attempted to take him to a safe area. The male spotted this and went on to be violent towards the security guard. He left while threatening to return with a knife. Once again, the police were called and not able to attend this incident.

-          Unfortunately, these store teams are now in a position where they are reluctant to call the police, as they feel as though they will not receive any support.


Barriers to justice for victims of retail abuse and violence

  1. Following a series of abusive incidents where [our] team members have called the police and officers not been able to attend, and criminal action hasn’t been taken, there is now a growing reticence amongst team members to log abuse internally.


  1. Each store has an Incident Manager who is responsible for logging incidents that involve abuse, violence, and theft. Our Operations and Loss Prevention teams are immediately notified. Whilst we have a robust internal process in place, it is impossible to resolve these incidents without adequate support from the police.


  1. Most shoplifting incidents are not attended to by the police and with perpetrators difficult to catch, there are very few charges issued following incidents. This has seen a rise in repeat offenders, who are becoming increasing confident, aggressive and at times violent, if they are challenged when in store.


  1. Seeing a physical police presence following calls would help to boost confidence amongst store teams and encourage them to be more forthcoming in reporting incidents. 


Whether a new aggravated offence is required

  1. The most common consequence for abuse and violence towards our team members is a shop ban, which is difficult to enforce and face masks further conceal the identities of these offenders.


  1. Our stores across the country have been targeted by organised crime groups – the nature of these groups is a serious risk to their safety and they are not discouraged by shop bans.


  1. Our stores have seen a six-fold increase in abuse and violence since the beginning of the pandemic.


  1. Between 21 March 2020 and 11 January 2021, over 360 incidents, many of which have been exacerbated by Covid-19 restrictions, have been logged. We expect that this number is actually far higher as team members have become less forthcoming in reporting incidents.


  1. These incidents include swearing and verbally abusive language, physical violence, spitting and coughing at team members.


  1. In light of Covid-19, we strongly believe a new aggravated offence is required with particular consideration of spitting and coughing on retail workers with malicious intent.

January 2021