Convenience store staff spat at, coughed at and threatened across Northamptonshire: Retailer reveals shocking rise in attacks

Central England Co-op lobbies government for tougher legislation

By Reporter
Sunday, 28th June 2020, 11:36 am
Updated Sunday, 28th June 2020, 12:47 pm
Picture: Getty Images
Picture: Getty Images

A shocking catalogue of abuse against staff working in convenience stores across Northamptonshire during lockdown has been released as part of a campaign to change legislation.

The campaign has been launched by Central England Co-op following a rise in incidents of staff being threatened.

In Northamptonshire, these included:

* A customer coughing in the face of a store manager and claiming they had COVID-19

* Multiple colleagues verbally abused and some even threatened with physical because they had run out of products including claims that they would spit or cough on people as they have Coronavirus

* Colleagues spat out while marshalling queues into stores, to make sure people adhere to social distancing, because it was taking too long to enter the shop

* Customer punched a protective plastic screen because, earlier during lockdown, restrictions had been placed on lottery ticket purchases

The retailer, which has over 260 stores across 16 counties, is joining forces with co-operatives up and down the country in a plea to better protect its workers in the face of a continued spike in colleagues working to provide their communities with vital food and essentials during these uncertain times being faced with unacceptable threats of verbal and physical abuse.

New figures have seen assaults jump by 100%, threats and intimidation by 25% and verbal abuse by 175% since the start of the year, and since the lockdown was introduced, there have been over 100 incidents related directly to people using COVID-19 as a threat.

The society has long campaigned for the Government to change legislation so shop workers are afforded greater protection in carrying out those public duties and are saying more needs to be done now to protect these critical workers and to curb a potential crime epidemic.

Debbie Robinson, Central England Co-op Chief Executive, said: “These uncertain times have brought to the fore how our colleagues in stores are key workers and critical to all of our everyday lives.

“However, despite this, we continue to see rise upon rise of incidents where our colleagues are verbally threatened or even worse physically abused just for doing the job – something that has only risen during the Coronavirus outbreak.

“Today we tell people this is not acceptable, and we will not tolerate any kind of abuse to our colleagues and we also urge the Government to work harder to recognise the people itself has recognised as being of vital importance to our daily lives.

“Their amazing contribution now needs to be recognised by a change in law so anyone who takes the decision to cross the line with our colleagues knows that retail crime is taken seriously.

“I would hope their status in society will now be permanently elevated and I am redoubling my efforts in lobbying for a change in sentencing law to ensure those who choose to attack our colleagues are held accountable for their actions on the same level as other frontline workers.

“This is not just a Central England Co-op problem, it is an industry-wide problem, and this is why we come together today to say we need change and we need it now.”

As part of this plea, the retailer is building awareness and support for MP Alex Norris’ Assault on Shop Workers Bill which has seen its second reading in Parliament postponed. It states that because shop workers have responsibilities to uphold the law on age restricted products, they should be afforded greater protection in carrying out those public duties.

In its 2020 Crime Report, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) found that a quarter of violent incidents resulted in injury, with a weapon used in almost 20% of occurrences. A knife was the most common used weapon (43%) with axes, hammers and syringes also used to attack or threaten shop workers.

Over the past three years, Central England Co-op says, it invested heavily in measures to protect colleagues including fitting stores with external motion detectors and a centrally monitored CCTV system fitted which allows colleagues to call for assistance at the touch of a button.

These measures sit alongside a range of others such as product GPS trackers, additional ATM anchors, gas suppression systems and stringent cash controls, all of which are designed to keep customers and colleagues safe as well as actively promoting the fact that targeting convenience supermarkets is not ‘worth the risk’.