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LAW ENFORCEMENT

Assault on shop workers to be made separate criminal offence

Assaulting a shop worker will be made a separate criminal offence in England and Wales as part of a government response to a wave of retail crime. 

Earlier this year the BRC’s crime report highlighted violent and abusive incidents against shop workers rose by 50 per cent in 2022-23.

Rishi Sunak said shops must be free from the threat of crime or abuse. 

The government had previously told retailers that a new law such as the one introduced in Scotland in 2021 was not needed and would not be effective.

But announcing the U-turn earlier this month, the government now says it is concerned about an increase in attacks. 

The prime minister said the new law was about "sending a message" to criminals stealing from local businesses or abusing shop workers that "enough is enough".

Helen Dickinson, chair of the British Retail Consortium, welcomed the announcement, saying "the voices of the three million people working in retail are finally being heard".

However, the charity Transform Justice argues that a specific offence will not reduce attacks on shop workers. 

It cited evidence that a new offence of assaulting an emergency worker had not seen the number of attacks fall. 

The new offence will carry a maximum sentence of six months. 

Perpetrators could also receive an unlimited fine and be banned from the shop where they committed the offence.

Serial offenders could be forced to wear tags so their movements can be tracked, and £50m will be spent on facial recognition technology.

Dedicated facial recognition units will be used in high streets to catch perpetrators and prevent shoplifting, and police have been told to cross-reference more CCTV images against police databases. 

In more serious cases, offenders found guilty of grievous bodily harm will face jail sentences.

But anyone convicted of the new offence would not routinely go to prison.

The Sentencing Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, would mean sentences of 12 months or less would be suspended and served in the community, although a prison sentence could be imposed in exceptional circumstances.

The government has promised reforms to free up prison space in response to overcrowding due to tougher sentences and court backlogs.

The announcement comes as Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and other senior party figures are on a local election campaign visit to Tees Valley to promote the party's polices to revive high streets.

Labour is promising neighbourhood police patrols to tackle anti-social behaviour and shoplifting, as well as plans to bring empty premises back into use.

Creating a new specific offence of assault against shop workers is already Labour policy. 

The party also wants to scrap a rule which makes it less likely police will investigate the theft of goods under the value of £200 because they are dealt with less severely by the courts.

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