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Co-op calls for action to protect shopworkers from rising theft and violence

Stealing with Impunity: New report sets out ten-point plan to curb career criminals and prolific offenders as Co-op reveals record levels of theft and violence. With… View Article


Co-op calls for action to protect shopworkers from rising theft and violence

With unchecked crime reaching record levels, a new report launched this week, commissioned by Co-op, and written by Professor of Criminology at City, University of London, Emmeline Taylor, sets out a ten point plan focused on turning the tide on prolific offenders and building on advancements seen to address the alarming increase in crime, violence, intimidation and abuse that continues to beset the retail sector, blight communities and wreak physical and mental harm on store workers.

Chief among the report’s recommendations is to make attacking a shopworker a stand-alone offence, with Co-op urging MPs to back the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which is soon to be debated in Parliament – giving shopworkers the legal protection they deserve. The convenience retailer is encouraging all its 57,000 colleagues, and five million Member-owners to write to their MP to back the Bill amendment.

Co-op has revealed that last year (2023) it experienced:

  • More than 1/3Million incidents of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour (up 44% YOY) – equating to approaching 1,000 incidents every day across its 2,400 stores.
  • The convenience retailer saw over 1,325 physical assaults against store workers in 2023 (up 34% YOY) - that is three or four colleagues attacked or assaulted every day
  • More than 40,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour and abuse (up 37%)

This is despite Co-op introducing over £200M of preventative measures over recent years to make its stores and communities safer.

New data reveals green shoots of improvements in Police response rates since the introduction of the Retail Crime Action Plan. Working with its security partner, Mitie, specially trained undercover (covert) guards detained 3,361 criminals in Co-op stores during 2023. Earlier this year, the retailer reported that Police failed to attend in nearly four-fifths (79%) of incidents where a criminal had been detained – creating a dangerous, intimidating and threatening environment in communities. Since the introduction of the Retail Crime Action Plan, the non-attendance rate has improved to 38% yet, with two-in-five detained criminals still walking away, it continues to send a message that this is a consequence-less crime.

The new report has ambitions to foster a refreshed, honest and collaborative approach between the retail industry, police, and broader criminal justice system, and build on the advancements seen. It illustrates how retail crime spreads and grows when left unchecked and is all too often dismissed as a petty and victimless crime despite its far-reaching societal impacts. It discusses the extensive UK stolen goods market whereby small local businesses or markets buy stolen products to either sell on or serve up for profit, while outlining the prevalence of stolen goods being offered for sale on increasingly popular online community marketplaces.

With an estimated 70% of shop theft committed by frequent users of Class A drugs who are stealing to fund a drug addiction, the crimes they commit become more volatile, desperate, and potentially violent. These repeat offenders steal persistently, at volume, and the report suggests that effectively tackling this group of repeat offenders will have a large impact on reducing retail crime, and its pervasive impact on society.

In addition to the impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of retail workers, societal impacts of career criminals include: proceeds of retail theft fuelling the drugs and, other illicit, trades; contributing to the criminal exploitation of vulnerable adults and children; destroying the high street and creating ‘food deserts’; blighting communities and, limiting employment opportunities.

Matt Hood, MD Co-op Food, said: “We are seeing far too many prolific offenders persistently steal large volumes of products, in our shops every day, and, if they are stealing to fund addictions, the situation often becomes volatile and dangerous. Crime is an occupation for some – it is not petty crime, and it is not victimless. It is imperative MPs don’t turn their backs on shopworkers, and vote through the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to give my colleagues the protection they deserve. Taking on board Professor Taylor’s recommendations, with a collaborative approach between the retail industry, the police, and the Government, will send out a loud and clear message to all those who commit brazen and violent acts of theft that time is now up on their criminal ways.”

Professor of Criminology at City, University of London, Emmeline Taylor, said: “Retail crime not only impacts on a business’s ability to operate safely and profitably but as my report demonstrates it also causes serious harm to shop workers, both physically and mentally, and to communities that are blighted by persistent offending. The police in England and Wales have lost grip on the scale and severity of acquisitive crime, and, in turn, retailers have lost confidence in them and the wider criminal justice system. My report sets out ten actionable recommendations to turn the tide on the current tsunami of shop theft. By taking decisive action to tackle high-volume, high-impact retail crime, the police and retail industry can work together to create safer communities in which to live, work and shop.”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, says: “Retail crime is not victimless and has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers. Having to deal with repeated and persistent offenders can cause anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers. It was deeply disappointing that the Government have no measures in their legislative programme to tackle high levels of retail crime and safeguard shopworkers. Labour is seeking to amend the Criminal Justice Bill to strengthen the law to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse. We urge Tory MPs and Ministers to end their long-held opposition to a protection of shopworkers law, which has already exists in Scotland and has led to over 500 convictions.”

Co-op welcomed the introduction of the Retail Crime Action Plan last October, and has witnessed early signs of progress.

Co-op has also repeatedly highlighted that where clear co-operation with police forces exist, and there is commitment and leadership, it is a solvable issue. Co-op has partnerships with a number of Forces, such as Nottinghamshire, Essex and Sussex, who, in the past 12 months, removed and managed 110 prolific offenders, with a combined 30 years of custodial sentences and a further 60 years’ worth of Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBO) given. Also 16 offenders received some form of rehabilitation order.

Co-op has invested more than £200M over recent years in colleague and store safety and security, this includes the latest interactive CCTV; body-worn cameras – which Co-op has used since 2019 to capture real time audio and visual footage at the touch of a button which is sent to its Security Operation Centre ; rolling out more fortified kiosks; use of dummy (or empty) packaging to deter bulk-theft and, covert (undercover) and non-covert guarding, with the tactical use of specially trained guards able to detain criminals.

You can urge your MP to back the Retail Workers amendment – and give shopworkers in our communities the protection they deserve at

See the new report – Stealing with Impunity – the policing of prolific local offenders and the impact on our shops and communities – here

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