The government is reviewing the guidelines on sentencing for assault. Will it be enough to deter criminals from attacking convenience store workers?

Attacks on retailers hit the news again recently when Mohammed Adan received a 25-year sentence for brutally assaulting retailer Fawad Irshad with a machete. And while justice seemed to have prevailed on this occasion, the penalties handed out do not always seem to be comparable with the suffering endured by the victim.

Fawad, who was severely injured in the machete attack, had been due to get married two weeks after the incident. Now he is in constant fear and refuses to work in his store. Can a 25-year sentence make up for that?

What we want:

Similar penalties for attacks on shopworkers to those for crimes against public servants such as nurses and police A more visible police presence on the streets to deter crime at a local level A commitment to investigate crimes that are deemed low-level, such as shoplifting.

It’s not just the shopworker who suffers after an attack, either. The local c-store is accurately described as the hub of a community and if a robbery or attack causes it to close for an extended period of time, or to reduce its service to the public, the whole community will feel the impact.

The government is reviewing the guidelines on sentences for attacks following a public consultation in England and Wales. It has received a submission from the Association of Convenience Stores, calling for harsher penalties for attacks on shopworkers and that sentences handed down for assault against shopworkers be made equal to those on public servants such as nurses.

It also wants the Sentencing Council to address the issue that currently ‘a single blow’ by an offender counts as a lower culpability factor and could result in a lesser sentence.

“Retailers and their staff have the right to feel protected by the criminal justice system while at work,” says ACS chief executive James Lowman. “We want to ensure that the sentencing guideline for assaults against shopworkers will deliver a greater penalty.”

What you can do

Contact your local police force’s crime prevention officer and arrange a meeting if you have concerns Ask them if there is anything you can do to support their work. This will strengthen the relationship, as well as sending out the message that your store is well protected. Report incidents of crime to the police and the Association of Convenience Store’s crime survey. If crime isn’t reported, government and police can’t do anything about it.

Retailers who work long hours, often on their own, are especially vulnerable to robbery and assault. This, coupled with lenient sentences for crimes against storeworkers, means the convenience store sector is often seen as a soft target by criminals.

Shopworkers’ union USDAW claims that more than a million store staff were abused, threatened or assaulted at work last year. General secretary John Hannett says that retailers can be reluctant to report crimes as they don’t think there will be a strong enough punishment. He adds: “There remains a significant problem of under-reporting, which is driven by the myth that shop crime is ‘victimless’ and the belief that little, if any, effective action will be taken.”

When it comes to good practice in sentencing, perhaps we should look north of the border. The average prison sentences in Scotland are now at their longest in a decade, with the number of custodial sentences handed out for assault increasing in 2010 compared with the previous year.

Despite the longer sentences being handed down, a Labour MSP Hugh Henry tabled a Bill to give shopworkers the same level of protection as those of emergency workers. Although it was unsuccessful, Labour leader Iain Gray has pledged to legislate on this issue should his Party come into power.

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