The call for harsher sentencing for crimes against retailers grows louder. The pressure is on the authorities to get tough, says Aidan Fortune
As well as working long hours in tough economic conditions, independent retailers are constantly under the threat of crime. Whether it’s theft, verbal abuse or even physical violence, retailers are seen as easy targets by organised and opportunistic criminals.
This is compounded by the fact that all too often the offenders, when caught, are given lenient sentences by a court that doesn’t appreciate the wider impact of the crime.
Last year, however, opinion changed. The August riots highlighted just how vulnerable independent retailers are to crime, bringing the issue to the forefront of the public consciousness. The retail sector suffered more than £300m-worth of damage and lost sales at the hands of the rioters, leaving many businesses struggling and forcing the courts into action.
In the aftermath of the riots, the authorities took a hard line on offenders, handing down lengthy sentences to those involved in the looting. The retail sector wants that trend to continue.
British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson believes heavy sentencing should be used for more than just once-in-a-generation events. “The riots should have brought home to everyone that crime against shops is crime against communities,” he says. “The victims include staff who are intimidated and traumatised, and local people whose services are disrupted, either temporarily or for ever.”
What we want:
● Sentences for crimes against shopworkers to be classified similarly to those against other workers put in harm’s way by serving the community
● A more visible police presence on the streets
● A commitment to investigate all crimes that were previously deemed low-level, such as shoplifting.
What you can do:
● Sign the petition at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/12401. Ask your staff and customers to sign it, too. If the petition gets 100,000 signatures the issue will have to be debated in parliament
● Arrange a meeting with your community crime prevention officer to see how they can help
● Report every crime, no matter how trivial it seems, so that police forces can get a true picture of the daily challenges faced by store owners.
He goes on: “Retailers and their staff are vulnerable and need protecting. Part of the solution is for the judicial system to send out a clear message that it takes retail crime seriously. The appropriate punishment of those who persistently target retailers can be achieved only if offenders are brought before the courts so the full impact of their crimes is understood.”
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman believes one way of highlighting the impact of retail crime is for those affected to submit Victim Personal Statements. “Retail crime is not victimless: there is always a human and monetary cost,” he says. “Allowing individuals and businesses to reflect the impact of crime will give retailers the confidence that sentences will fit the crime.”
The government recently launched a consultation to review how retail crime fits into the Victims Code and will be accepting submissions until April 22. Those interested in making a submission can do so online at http://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/victims-witnesses.
Convenience Store has been urging stricter penalties for crimes against retailers and their staff through the Zero Tolerance campaign. Retailers can help by going online to sign C-Store’s e-petition. It needs 100,000 signatures for the e-petition to be debated in parliament, so we urge all retailers, their staff, customers and families to sign. Go to http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/12401. •