The lack of action is criminal

Antony Begley

If you were unfortunate enough to see the horrific CCTV footage on Facebook recently of the central belt retailer who endured a sustained five-minute beating from a gang of mindless thugs, you’ll be well aware that retail crime is still very much a major issue. Attendees at last month’s SGF Crime Seminar were shown the footage and the audible gasps and cries tell their own story.

The 2019 Scottish Crime Report found that 100% of local retailers in Scotland have suffered from retail crime in one way or another. Mercifully, not all of it involving being punched, kicked and battered with glass bottles – but it would be a lie to say that violence isn’t a regular occurrence in stores across the country.

And usually because the retailer had no choice but to uphold the law by asking for ID or refusing a sale for one legitimate reason or another. Make no mistake, this is what lies at the heart of this problem: retailers being forced to police their own stores with little or no support in any tangible way from the people responsible for creating the laws that are the triggers for so much verbal and physical abuse.

The SGF Crime Survey found that every respondent (100%) experienced incidents of physical or verbal abuse when refusing a sale, with 61% enduring them every week. And this is before we get to the more mundane retail crimes like shoplifting. Some 63% of respondents experienced shop theft on a daily basis.

Far play to Daniel Johnson MSP for his Proposed Protection of Workers Bill as it will certainly help if he succeeds in getting it through the Committee stage in April – but let’s be honest, the real solution has got to run deeper than that and must involve a full re-think of both the scale and the impact of crimes that have effectively become normalised.

Ash Denham MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Community Safety, spoke at the seminar and did her best to demonstrate that the Government is taking the issue seriously but wound up talking about an overhaul of IT systems that will free up police officers, the importance of Neighbourhood Watch Schemes and some toolkits available from the Scottish Business Resilience Centre. Hardly proof that the Government is tackling the issue head on.

But when it came to the stuff that really mattered it was more of the same. The current presumption against short sentences of three months or less to sentences of 12 months or less is to be extended which, in reality, means that the chances of a convicted shoplifter being taken off the streets will move from slim to practically zero. “Compelling” evidence, she said, suggests short sentences do little to rehabilitate or reduce the likelihood of reoffending. So the answer is no custodial sentences? I’m no philosopher but that logic doesn’t work.

Retailer Amjid Bashir who spoke at the seminar put it best when he said “retail crime is not a low-level crime”. Anyone who saw the CCTV footage of that brutal attack will wholeheartedly agree. The most puzzling issue here is why retail crime always seems to be quietly dismissed by politicians as retailers getting excited over nothing. What exactly do we have to do to give this issue the priority it so badly deserves? We’ve already seen retailers murdered in their stores. How serious does an issue have to get before it gets taken seriously?

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Antony Begley, Publishing Director