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Gidea Park Co-op manager calls for stronger penalties after rise in attacks on staff

There have been 1,350 attacks on shop workers this year (credit: Singh Lall)

The Co-op is calling for stronger penalties for people who attack store staff following a rise in assaults this year. 

New research shows there has been a 140 percent increase in crimes at stores this year, including 1,350 attacks on shop workers across the country as of mid-June. 

Claire Saunders is the manager of the Co-op in Gidea Park and says staff were being abused “quite a few times a day” when people first started panic-buying: 

“I was threatened to be spat at and given coronavirus by a shoplifter,” Claire said. “I’ve had customers when they were panic buying they’ve pushed an elderly customer over, they’ve pushed me over.”

She also says she received verbal abuse while enforcing the rule limiting customers to only buying a small number of certain items, such as eggs.

The Co-op is supporting a bill in Parliament by MP Alex Norris which is calling for greater protection to be afforded to shop workers, as they are responsible for upholding the law on age-restricted products. 

This is not the first time that the supermarket has called for government action on shop worker abuse.

In June 2019, it condemned the government for failing to act after it released data showing that 600 employees had reported experiences of abuse in the workplace. 

“The government needs to take it seriously,” added Claire. “I think they need to review the sentencing because society needs to know this is not part of our job. 

“We are key workers, as we’ve proven, and this needs to be shown by the government supporting this bill.” 

Claire also wants police to provide more support to shop workers.

“Nine times out of 10, when we’ve called them you don’t get a response,” she said.

“Even just more of a visible presence would help but we need them to start prioritising that when we call, we really do need some assistance.” 

The Co-op has committed to spending £70 million over the next three years on safety equipment for staff. 

It will include SmartWater Fog Cannons, remotely monitored CCTV, body cameras, and communication headsets.

“I think that just gives you a greater sense of security because everything is being filmed,” said Claire. 

“For me, the headsets are really key because you could be at the other end of the store to someone else and you’ll be in constant contact.” 

For more on this story, and the latest on our other local and national news, listen to Time 107.5FM

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