Case Studies

Politicians bankrupt of retail violence ideas

by Mark Rowe

It’s hard to say what was more depressing about the evidence that two retailers gave to MPs about violence against shop staff – the crimes done before, during and no doubt after covid; or the bankruptcy of all political parties to do something useful about it, writes Mark Rowe.

The Home Affairs Committee of MPs heard from Iona Blake, security and incident manager at Boots; and Paul Gerrard of The Co-op; and from the trade union Usdaw, and the retail trade associations the BRC and ASC. Besides the actual details of violence, a theme of the evidence was the lack of any, or consistent, police response. James Lowman, chief of the Association of Convenience Stores (its annual crime survey is featured in the May print edition of Professional Security magazine) told MPs: “It isn’t just a perception, it’s absolute reality that shoplifting offences aren’t met with a police response.” To leave the online evidence-hearing for a moment – the MPs have also made a call for evidence publicly and will report in due course – only the covid variant of spitting and threats – ‘weaponisation’, the witnesses called it – is new. In his 2012 book Shopping and Crime, Prof Joshua Bamfield set out how shop theft has been ‘de-criminalised’.

As the MPs heard, retailers have been managing the risk – as with any risk, they have been offloading it, seeking to reduce it or otherwise mitigate it. A committee member, the Scottish Nationalist MP Stuart McDonald, said that he had visited a Co-op in his (Cumbernauld) constituency and ‘it seems to be a place that had invested significantly in technology and trying to make sure that staff are safe’. A Conservative member of the committee, Shoreham MP Tim Loughton, spoke of visiting an (unnamed) supermarket that does not stop anybody (that is, not even a thief) but searches CCTV afterwards and hopes that police will take up the case.

Unacceptable – really?

Yvette Cooper, the senior Labour MP who chairs the committee, closed the first half of the session by calling violence in workplaces ‘unacceptable’; a word much used in public life to condemn bad things. Yet surely it is no such thing; violence is accepted, because it’s going on, all the time.

More in the June print edition of Professional Security magazine.

For the two-hour evidence session on Parliament TV, visit See also yesterday’s news stories: ‘Retailers tell MPs of security response‘; and ‘Covid ‘weaponised’, retailers tell MPs‘.

The committee’s call for evidence from the public closed in January and it is expected to publish a report in due course.

Photo by Mark Rowe; shopping centre covid floor signage.

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