Sunak U-turns over decision to make assaulting shopworkers a separate criminal offence

Judges already have the power to ban repeat offenders from certain shops under criminal behaviour orders

Christopher McKeon
Tuesday 09 April 2024 23:46 BST
Chancellor Rishi Sunak at a sweet shop during a visit to Bury market in Lancashire
Chancellor Rishi Sunak at a sweet shop during a visit to Bury market in Lancashire (PA Wire)

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Assaulting a shopworker is to be made a separate criminal offence after the Government U-turned in the face of a long-running campaign.

Ministers had previously ruled out legislating to create a new offence, saying in response to a parliamentary petition in October they did not think it was “required or will be most effective”.

on Wednesday Rishi Sunak announced that his Government would be amending its Criminal JusticeBill to bring in the new offence.

He said: “I am sending a message to those criminals – whether they are serious organised criminal gangs, repeat offenders or opportunistic thieves – who think they can get away with stealing from these local businesses or abusing shopworkers, enough is enough.

“Our local shops are the lifeblood of our communities, and they must be free to trade without the threat of crime or abuse.”

The new offence will carry a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine, the same sentence for the existing offence of common assault.

Repeat offenders could also be forced to wear an electronic tag, as could consistent shoplifters, under amendments to the Bill currently making its way through Parliament.

The Government also plans to pilot community sentencing measures with an as-yet unnamed police force to tackle high levels of shoplifting, along with greater use of facial recognition technology to identify people wanted by the police in crowded areas.

Judges already have the power to ban repeat offenders from certain shops under criminal behaviour orders, with breaches bringing a maximum sentence of five years.

Retail crime has hit the Co-Op
Retail crime has hit the Co-Op (PA Media)

The move to create a separate offence follows a long-running campaign from major retailers and Conservative backbencher Matt Vickers amid rising violence against retail workers.

Over the past six months, more than 47,000 people have signed a petition calling for the creation of a separate offence of assaulting a retail worker.

But an initial response published last October said: “The Government is committed to supporting hardworking retail workers, who can suffer intolerable violence and abuse, but we do not think more legislative change is required or will be most effective.”

The response added that the Government had already legislated in 2022 to make assaulting a “public-facing worker”, including retail staff, an aggravated offence for sentencing “to emphasise that these types of assaults are totally unacceptable”.

Earlier this year, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) published a report saying violent and abusive incidents against shopworkers had increased 50% between 2021/22 and 2022/23.

Helen Dickinson, chairwoman of the BRC, welcomed the announcement, saying that “the voices of the three million people working in retail are finally being heard”.

She said: “The impact of retail violence has steadily worsened, with people facing racial abuse, sexual harassment, threatening behaviour, physical assault and threats with weapons, often linked to organised crime.

“Victims are ordinary hardworking people – teenagers taking on their first job, carers looking for part-time work, parents working around childcare.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Government’s proposals were “a pale imitation” of her own party’s plans.

She said: “Under the Tories too many communities and high streets are being blighted by staggering increases in shoplifting, up 30% in the last year alone.

“Labour has been calling for tougher action against those who assault shopworkers for more than 10 years. The Tories opposed and voted against our plans for better protection. Why has it taken them so long to act?”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in