Report highlights true extent of retail crime in north

‘Difficult funding environment impacting on our work including neighbourhood policing teams’ - PSNI

Launching the 'Working Together' retail report are (from left) Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts, Justice Minister Naomi Long, PSNI DCC Chris Todd and Retail NI chair Paddy Murney
Launching the 'Working Together' retail report are (from left) Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts, Justice Minister Naomi Long, PSNI DCC Chris Todd and Retail NI chair Paddy Murney

Threats and violence against shop workers in Northern Ireland “need to be made a specific criminal offence as in the rest of the UK”, members of the Assembly have been told.

And with hundreds of reported incidents every day, the authorities have been urged double down on other crimes against retailers including shoplifting and criminal damage (which UK-wide currently costs around £8 billion a year).

That’s the view of more than 300 members of Retail NI in the most comprehensive survey ever conducted by the trade body.

Its ‘Working Together’ document - released at an event in Parliament Buildings attended by Justice Minister Naomi Long and PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Chris Todd - highlights the huge impact crime is having on Retail NI member businesses, their staff, and the wider economy.

It sets out 17 key recommendations, including making assault of shop workers a specific criminal offence, ensuring PSNI Neighbourhood Teams are properly funded and resourced, and seeking enhanced rate relief for independent retailers who invest in in-store technology systems.

The survey of 301 Retail NI members, conducted between December and March, showed that:

  • 67% of retail staff victim of violence and threats.
  • 51% have staff who have left because of assault and verbal abuse.
  • 91% have experienced shoplifting on a regular basis.
  • 72% are pleased with police response but 91% of those responded were disappointed with follow up.
  • 80% have never had any contact with Police and Community Safety Partnerships (PCSP) with 35% of those surveyed didn’t even know what a PCSP was.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “This in-depth report highlights the huge impact crime is having on our members business, their staff, and the wider economy - and it’s startling that 67% of respondents reported that their workers have been victims of assault and threats, and 51% were losing staff as a result.

Thousands of shoplifters are walking free after being detained by undercover guards in Co-op stores
91% of retailers in Northern Ireland say they have experienced shoplifting on a regular basis (Alamy Stock Photo)

“Our members are extremely frustrated with the criminal justice system and feel let down by the punishments, or the lack of, for offenders. Confidence-building measures are urgently needed and visible action taken against those who are found guilty of theft and intimate shop staff.”

He added: “While we highlight how serious this problem is, our focus is on solutions, and we want to reinforce the message that a more effective partnership between business, police, Department of Justice, and the public is the only way in which we can improve this situation.”

Justice Minister Naomi Long said: “This report provides an opportunity for us all to take stock, review and consider the views and the range of issues facing business owners and staff in our society.

“My department is fully committed to working with all partners, including businesses, the community and voluntary sector, PSNI, as well as other departments and organisations to ensure we have a community where we all feel safe to live and work.

“I condemn all abuse and violence directed at any front-line workers. No-one should face mistreatment whilst doing their job and serving the public and such attacks are wholly unacceptable and must not be tolerated.”

Deputy Chief Constable Chris Todd said: “We dedicate considerable effort to working with local businesses and partner organisations to tackle retail-related crime, and the recommendations of this report will be considered in line with our existing proactive work on business crime, which includes Safer Business Action Days and our first-in-the-UK Safe Shop staff-training initiative.

“But our difficult funding environment is having a very real impact on the scope of our work including our neighbourhood policing teams. Although the majority of those surveyed are satisfied with police response, sustaining this level of focus will be increasingly challenging unless the Police Service is properly and sustainably funded.”