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Retail NI has launched an action plan to address crime, following new research which revealed 91% of its members experience shoplifting on a regular basis.

The ‘Working Together’ report includes survey results from over 300 Retail NI members and presents 17 recommendations for the Northern Ireland Executive and Police Service.

Currently, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to have assault of shop workers as a specific criminal offence.

The trade body said that it has made it a top priority to lobby the Justice Minister to introduce a legislation to help deter criminals and to protect shop staff.

Results from the survey found that 67% of its members face violence and threats, while 50% of its members have experienced staff leaving because of assault and verbal abuse.

It also revealed that over 70% said they were pleased with police responses, but 91% are disappointed with the police follow up.

Retail NI chief executives Glyn Roberts explained that the report highlights the huge impact that crime is having on their members business, their staff, and the wider economy: “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.

“While we highlight how serious this problem is, our focus is on solutions. 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.”

Retail NI has also called for PSNI Neighbourhood teams to be properly funded and resourced to ensure towns and city centres are safe places for staff and shopper alike.

Roberts added: “Technology has key role to play, and we want to see enhanced rate relief for independent retailers who invest in instore systems such as facial recognition.”

The Justice Minister Naomi Long MLA has welcomed the report: The Department of Justice 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 that we have a community where we all feel safe to live and work.

“I condemn all abuse and violence directed at any frontline 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. Such abuse or violence can be prosecuted under existing laws designed to protect any member of the public from harm. The introduction of further protections for these workers is something to which I am giving further consideration.”

Deputy chief constable Chris Todd said: “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. However, our difficult funding environment is having a very real impact on the scope of our work including our neighbourhood policing teams. And - although the majority of those surveyed are satisfied with police response and Northern Ireland’s crime rates compare favourably to the rest of the UK - sustaining this level of focus will be increasingly challenging unless the Police Service is properly and sustainably funded.

“Working Together is key; partnership working is a resource multiplier. Within the wider Business Crime Partnership, we will continue working to ensure that Northern Ireland remains a safe, attractive and prosperous place to live and do business.”