Shop staff in front line against crime

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The Independent Online
SHOP workers are facing a record number of attacks, both physical and verbal, from disgruntled customers and thieves, according to a new report.

The number of robberies has also shot up by 42 per cent to 17,000 with off-licences, jewellers and petrol stations most at risk. The number of staff physically assaulted rose by 44 per cent to 13,000 and a further 177,000 were threatened with violence or subjected to verbal abuse.

The director of the fifth annual Retail Crime Survey, compiled by the British Retail Consortium, said the surge in violence against staff was "horrific".

Overall, the cost to retailers of criminal activity fell from pounds 1.42bn to pounds 1.38bn last year - although it still costs every household in the United Kingdom pounds 85.

Shoplifting, or customer theft, cost shops pounds 608m following a 14 per cent drop in the number of incidents to 4.3 million. While thefts by staff fell by 16 per cent they still account for more than half the losses.

Marks & Spencer blamed "persistent and professional" criminals for the bulk of shoplifting crimes, warning that some gangs were stealing goods worth up to pounds 2m a year.

The figures show there was one incident of shoplifting every three seconds during opening hours with a member of shop staff assaulted or threatened every minute of the working day. Some 54 per cent of physical attacks on staff happened when they tackled shop thieves.

Workers in chemists' shops were the most likely to be assaulted with 34 attacks per 1,000 staff last year.

Director-general of the BRC, Ann Robinson, said the rise in violence against shopworkers was "horrific" and suggested it was a reflection of a general trend towards a more violent society.

"These are very frightening experiences. Increasingly it is the people in small shops open long hours who suffer the worst effects and for the small retailer who lives over the shop the whole family can be traumatised," she said.

The shop workers' union, Usdaw, called for more action to stem the rising tide of violence.

Bill Connor, general secretary, blamed longer opening hours for the increased danger and said shop owners should do more to protect their staff, in particular installing more surveillance equipment.

"Extended opening hours in stores have undoubtedly contributed to the number of violent incidents, particularly drug- and alcohol-related crimes."

Burglaries, including break-ins and ram-raids, have halved in the past five years to 87,000 incidents, costing shops pounds 155m.

Marks & Spencer said its research showed that people who stole from shops as a "day job" were often the same criminals who burgled houses and committed violent crimes to feed a drugs habit.

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