Parliamentary inquiry into abuse of shop staff welcomed by Hastings traders

Hastings retailers have welcomed a newly published series of House of Commons recommendations aimed at tackling violence and abuse towards retail workers. 

The Home Affairs committee’s 75-page report into escalating incidents of threats and violence directed towards shop staff proposes a series of measures that have been called for by local traders for some years. 

John Bownas.

Foremost in the conclusions drawn from interviews with representatives from high street businesses across the UK is the fact that, “the appalling truth, exposed comprehensively by data from the industry, is that for millions of shop workers verbal abuse and physical violence is becoming a too frequent reality.” 

The committee also made it clear that: “A robust response led by Government is urgently required to break this escalating cycle of violence (because) shop workers are often the lifeblood of local high streets and communities”, and “abuse should never be ‘simply part of the job’ or accepted as a ‘norm’ in any workplace.” 

Among the measures suggested by MPs on the committee is a heightened police response to criminal activity reported by retailers – especially where threats or violent behaviour are involved. 

Sussex’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, has been at the forefront of this need to increase prevention and prosecution of offenders, stating recently that she wants, “to make shops and businesses safer places to work” by establishing a dedicated business crime team within Sussex Police and support victims of crime. 

John Bownas, manager of the Hastings Business Crime Reduction Partnership, said: “We are fortunate in Sussex to have Katy on our side – as well as the support of the local Community Safety Partnership, led by Hastings Borough Council. In the past 12 months we’ve seen significant changes that are really starting to have an impact.  

“Thanks largely to the hard work of Chris Neilson, Sussex Police’s lead on Business Crime Reduction, there is now a dedicated team at the Lewes police HQ who are focused entirely on helping towns like Hastings, with active Shopwatch schemes, target their most prolific offenders. This has led to the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of several of our worst local characters – often through close working between the local Hastings police and shop staff who are members of the scheme.

“When we are notified of warrants being issued for well-known local thieves this information is circulated around local stores, and the combination of the Shopwatch radio network and a secure smartphone app mean wanted people are quickly picked up and taken into custody.” 

The Home Affairs committee’s paper contains a raft of suggestions and recommendations – with a heavy focus on how important it is that crimes are reported to the police and that these reports capture enough information to ensure that analysis of data can properly reflect the true scale of the problem. 

It also puts a fresh focus on how important it is for neighbourhood policing teams to engage effectively with local retailers and committee members commended the work of business crime reduction partnerships, highlighting how these organisations allow shop workers on the front line to liaise more effectively with local police teams. 

Mr Bownas added: “We’re particularly pleased that the committee have encouraged the Home Office to look at ways of supporting our work through the on-going Safer Streets programme of grant funding for initiatives aimed at making high streets safer places.  

“We’ve recently submitted a proposal to Katy Bourne’s office to seek support through Safer Streets to upgrade and improve monitoring of existing CCTV systems, and there are many other initiatives we would like to pursue in the future in collaboration with Sussex Police to help protect our members and local shoppers alike.” 

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