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National Retail Crime Steering Group

Violence and Abuse against Shop Workers

National Retail Crime Steering Group

Violence and Abuse against Shop Workers

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Section 1

Case Studies and Statements

        |        REPORTS        |        CALL FOR EVIDENCE


Retailer Worker from South Wales

“I am a staff member in South Wales and have been a victim of workplace violence. I was hit in the head by a female after I chased them when they left store with a bag of our stock. This is not something you expect when coming into work, especially not within the retail sector and certainly not during COVID. We have many issues with drug-users in our store and they seem to be getting even more desperate than usual. It has made me think twice about approaching people and has made me more nervous than previous. I am not scared to come to work but do feel wary when carrying out my daily job. I feel you have to be constantly switched on and sometimes have to think of what may happen in a worst case scenario before taking any actions”.

Retail Store Manager from Dorset

“I have been a Store Manager for a number of years now and I am based in the Dorset area. Recently I was punched in the face by a male after I had chased him and recovered stock he had stolen. The Police were really good on this occasion and arrested the offender at the scene and this is currently going through Court. Shoplifting is on the increase in this area and there are not enough support to deal with the problem or make us feel safe. Things like this don’t really phase me but I am now much more mindful of what could happen if I decide to challenge someone but I’m more concerned about the safety of my team. The safety of myself and my team comes first and I don’t want them to end up in situations like I have been. I am certainly not afraid to come to work but it would definitely make other people scared and nervous to come into work”.

Retail Supervisor from Somerset

“I am a Supervisor based in the Bath area. I have covered many stores in this area including Bristol and faced abuse and threatening behaviour on a regular basis. I was recently head-butted by a male after stopping this person from stealing. I was shocked that this had happened, especially because I am a female and he was a male. Things like this just shouldn’t happen. It hasn’t really affected me in terms of coming to work or working in the same store but I need to make sure that I don’t end up in situations like this again. The Police have been really good and supportive which does make things much easier though with this incident. More of the day to day abuse little in my opinion is being done. My job is enjoyable but retail workers do not deserve this type of thing”.

Floor Manager from South Wales 

“I am a Floor Manager and an ex-Security Guard from the Cardiff area. I have been spat at and abused many times throughout my career, most recently being a few months ago dealing with an offender in store. As a Security Guard this was more expected but as a retail staff member, not so much. There are a lot of younger colleagues in my store and it can be scary for them to be in these sorts of situations as people can get violent very quickly. COVID has escalated the threats of spitting because people tend to be more scared due to this. Police normally respond well and attend incidents but I know this is different throughout the country. The threats we in retail face is only increasing and becoming more violet”.

Supervisor from West Midlands 

“I am a Supervisor based in the West Midlands. A few months back I was involved in a workplace violence incident where I was dragged through the car park by a vehicle and repeatedly punched by people stealing from my store. This was a really shocking incident and it had a direct effect on me for about a month after. Every time I would hear the tagging gates activate, the whole incident came flooding back. My adrenaline would go through the roof and I was constantly on edge. Each day I encounter some form of abuse or just members of the public being aggressive towards me or my colleagues for trivial things which can make working conditions really difficult. I really enjoy my job but sometimes incidents like this and the daily abuse really can get to you”. 

Store Manager from London

“I am a store manager in South West London and have been a victim of violence before where I was alerted that shoplifters had concealed stock in a bag. One of the females hit me with a walking stick in the eye to get away and was very aggressive. This really scared me and I felt let down by the lack of Police action.  People steal stock all the time in this area and I am scared that one day someone will get hurt.  In my view the perception is that shop workers can be abused, threatened or assaulted and the punishment given to those who do this is not firm enough to discourage this behaviour”.  

Store Manager from London

“I am a store manager in South West London and during 2020 I had an incident where I spotted two shoplifters in my store stealing stock, I approached them and they became abusive and started to get very aggressive when I asked for the stock back. One of them attacked me and just wanted to hurt me for no reason. The Police were called but didn’t do much even though I told them that I had details of the people involved. This made me feel afraid to be in situations like this as shoplifters specifically do not care about the consequences. Violence against retail staff is increasing and it is no exaggeration to say this is a daily issue across retail with no sign of it improvement”.

Assistant Manager from Kent

“I am an assistant store manager in Kent and during 2020 I had an incident where I stopped a shoplifter with a colleague and after I challenged him he became aggressive and made fun of my appearance, made racial comments and he then spat in my face. As this was during COVID I was horrified that this could happen and was scared that I may have caught this virus. The local security caught the offender and the Police attended the store to tell me that the offender had transmittable disease. I was absolutely terrified to be told this and I had to go through all sorts of tests. This incident made me feel very scared to speak to some people as I kept thinking about this incident and how the person didn’t care about other people”.

Store Manager from London

“In my time as a sales assistant and now as a Manager I have witnessed countless incidents of verbal and physical abuse whilst in work.  One particular incident involved a group of males entering my place of work armed with poles as weapons and threatening me and my team.  I was very scared and worried at what they may do and feared for the safety of my team and store.  I constantly worry that this group could return to the store and worry what they would do.  I’m very anxious about travelling to work and being there and had several nights of broken sleep.  I also experience headaches through the stress that this incident put me under.  Over my years the respect towards retail workers has completely gone and people feel they have a right to abuse and threaten us”.

Store Manager from London

“During my time in retail I have encountered many incidents of violence which has gradually become more frequent over the years. These have included verbal threats of violence and even some instances of physical violence. One such incident happened in store recently when I advised a customer they would not be permitted to try on clothing in store due to restrictions. He became frustrated and made some derogatory remarks towards me. He then asked a colleague if he could purchase a knife, by law we request ID to verify the customer is over 18. When we requested this, he became very angry and verbally abused me for no reason. He then flashed his genitals at me, my colleagues and customers and then referred to me as a paedophile.  He then offered to knock me out if I stepped outside. I felt very humiliated and embarrassed that this male had spoken to me in this way. I was worried about what else he may do as he seemed to be unpredictable in his behaviour. I felt scared for my safety and my colleagues. I felt nervous after he left and very on edge for the rest of the shift and several days afterwards. I shouldn’t be subjected to this type of behaviour or any form abuse or violence in my place of work. Unfortunately, the way people act towards retail workers is getting to a point that colleagues don’t feel comfortable coming to work or people don’t want a job in retail because of this and something drastically has to change”.     

Retail Manager from Dublin

“I am a member of the management team based in a store in Dublin and recently I was a victim of violence in the workplace. I had been alerted to a female acting suspiciously; myself and other members of management had approached the female and recovered the stock and whilst trying to apprehend her she slapped my face and hit me across the back of the head with a nearby wet floor sign. The female had also threatened my colleague that she had Covid and would spit in her face. The female was eventually arrested by the police. I sadly am not surprised that the female behaved in this way as this is generally becoming the ‘norm’ when dealing with shoplifters but that does not make it okay”.

Retail Manager from Scotland

“I am a supervisor from a store in Scotland and late last year I witnessed an appalling incident of workplace violence; myself and a colleague had approached a group of four young males who had concealed items on their person and left the store. My colleague had approached one of the males but he turned on him and kicked my colleague in the stomach which caused him to fall to the ground and then all four began to punch my colleague in his head whilst he was on the ground. I was able to get over to help my colleague and get him back on his feet and then returned to the store where the police were called; once back at the store I think the adrenaline had worn off and I for one felt particularly awful that this had happened to a colleague and I had been witness to it. I know my colleague started to feel unwell at that time and attended hospital where it was confirmed that he had two fractures-one to his eye socket and one to his nose. I’m just really cautious about what I do in the store now after witnessing this and realising that some people will do anything to get what they want and get away”.

Retail Assistant From Scotland

“I’m a sales assistant employed for around 1 year; I had been working on my section when I saw 3 young males and I thought they were behaving oddly so I kept an eye on them. They selected a couple of items of clothing and then went to the door and ran out of the store; instinct kicked in and I followed and once outside one of the males stopped and punched me in the head. I immediately returned to the store and spoke to my manager. I was really surprised that I had been assaulted whilst I was only doing my job; I let them get away with the stock because I didn’t want to be assaulted again”

Retail Assistant from North West England

“I have worked as a sales assistant for my employer for around a year; I was on duty in store when I saw two males run from the store with armfuls of clothing and it was clear that they hadn’t paid. I gave chase with a colleague and we managed to recover some stock from one of the males but the other male wasn’t prepared to hand any stock back to us and pulled out a Stanley knife from his pocket. Myself and my colleague immediately stopped and backed away; as the male was turning to run to the waiting vehicle he dropped the knife so when I knew that he had gone I retrieved the knife so that I could hand it to the police. I was really shaken up by the incident thinking about what easily could have happened and the outcome could have been very different-I just didn’t expect him to pull a knife out on me over some clothes”.

Retail Assistant from West Yorkshire

“I’m a sales assistant from a store in West Yorkshire, late 2020 I was working in my store when I was informed about two males and a female acting suspiciously on menswear. I approached them and could see that they were holding a large amount of stock and the next second they were running towards the door. I followed out with a colleague and approached the female, the female was instantly really aggressive towards me and was shouting and swearing at me. The two males that had ran ahead of her turned back and came towards me and both punched me in my head; I immediately stepped back and made my way back to the store with my colleague and reported this to the police. I had a couple of marks on my head where I had been hit; I was just really surprised at the lengths people will go to when shoplifting from a store-it’s like the staff really don’t matter to these people”.

Retail Assistant from North West

“I am a sales assistant employed in the North West, I was on duty one day when I saw two males on menswear. The males were both carrying large bags and were acting strange; I could then see that they had put a lot of stock into each of the bags that they were carrying and came towards the front of the store. I had called for assistance already as I knew that they would try and leave with the bags; as one of the males approached me at the front of the store he could clearly see that I was really nervous and was shaking and asked me ‘why’. I asked them politely to give back the stock that they had in their bags but they denied having anything. Next thing one of the males had grabbed me on the back of the neck and pushed me hard to the floor and even when I tried to get back up he pushed me again causing me to land on the floor for the second time. I managed to get back to my feet and grabbed the bag from his hand and recovered all stock handing back the empty bag to him. I have a sore neck from where he grabbed me and a sore hip from where he pushed me to the ground twice. I feel really upset and saddened that this happened in my place of work where I should feel safe; I just felt as though he wanted to prove a point that he could do these things to me and there was nothing I could do about it. I had followed my training and asked for the stock back but he still felt the need to push me to the floor. It’s not right”.

Retail Manager from North West

“I’m a member of management from a store in the North West; I was working in store on an occasion in October 2020 when I saw a male leave the store after activating the alarm barriers. I followed out and spoke to the male and followed the customer service training I had been given; the male got to a vehicle so I took down some details on my mobile phone as I wasn’t sure at that point exactly what had happened. The male exited the vehicle and approached me and unzipped his jacket where he removed a flick knife and brandished this towards me whilst shouting and swearing at me. I immediately backed away and returned to the store to report the incident to the police. I feel that this could have turned into a really nasty incident and I’m just glad that I was able to back away safely. I shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of threat in my place of work”.

Retail Manager from Yorkshire

“I’m a manager from Yorkshire and was a victim of an assault in my place of work; I was in the back areas of the store and saw on live CCTV that a male and female trying to forcibly remove the security tags from stock. I went out onto the shopfloor and with a colleague approached the couple and told them that they needed to leave the store; the male became confrontational and aggressive towards me and then reached into his pocket. At that moment I was really worried that he had a weapon so I took a hold of his arm and he threatened me that if I didn’t let go he would stab me; I didn’t feel that I could just let him go so kept a hold of his arm and myself and a colleague escorted him out of the store. Once I got to the exit I let him go at which point he punched me in the side of my head and then head butted me on my nose and tried to pull me out into the car park with him. I managed to get away from him and he and the female ran from the store. The incident was reported to the police and I attended hospital where they confirmed that my nose was broken. I was really shook up and upset by what had happened to me when I was only trying to do my job. I don’t think shoplifters are really bothered anymore about what might happen to them even when the police are called and arrive at the store-most of the time they just get a warning and the shoplifters know this”.

Retail Manager from North East England

“I have recently been the victim of an incident of workplace violence; I was working in store when I was told by my colleagues that there was a male and female acting suspiciously at the till with a large amount of jackets. The female suddenly grabbed the jackets and ran towards the exit but because of their behaviour there were already a lot of staff ready to approach her and recover the stock. As the female was stopped the male has grabbed me and got me in a headlock and repeatedly poked me in my eye and punched my head; I managed to push him away from me and he ran from the store. Because he had assaulted me I wanted to be able to detain him on behalf of the police so I followed him out of the store and tried to stop him but he turned to me and held his fists up towards me. I tried to grab him but he pulled me to the floor and with his arm around my throat started to choke me and again was poking my eye; I managed to get away from him and returned to the store where the incident was reported to the police. My eye was really painful and my vision was blurred so I went to the hospital where they said that I had a corneal abrasion; this could have had potentially devastating consequences if he had caused permanent damage to my sight. I just feel that its really not fair that retail staff have to put up with this kind of behaviour from shoplifters. I feel okay about working in the store but I do worry about some of the other employees who may not have been able to deal with it in the same way”

Retail Manager from West Yorkshire

“I’m a store manager working in Bradford; I was on duty when I was called to the till to speak to a male about a refund. I had refused the refund as it was out of our company policy; he immediately began to be rude and aggressive towards me and called me offensive and derogatory names. I asked him to leave the store and with the assistance of my colleagues the male was escorted out of the store. A little while later the male returned; I could see that he was looking at me through the front window; he came in and walked straight up to me and spat in my face and then ran from the store. The only saving grace was that I was wearing my mask so his saliva only went on my cheek rather than anywhere near my mouth; I felt disgusting and washed my face in the toilets with hand sanitizer. Just before I finished my shift I took a phone call on the store phone and it was the male who had spat at me; he was being rude towards me again but I kept him talking long enough to note down the number he was calling from and passed this to the police. I felt complete shock and disbelief that the male had spat in my face; I just burst into tears and was repeating over and over that he had spat in my face; I think the way that he had behaved towards me was absolutely disgusting especially since I was only doing my job. I suffer some form of verbal abuse on a daily basis working in retail which really isn’t okay but this male really got to me because I felt physically violated that he had spat on my face”.


1.   Male and female couple were in store shopping the body spray aisle using live products as testers and were refusing to put masks on when requested. They left the store but later came back just before closing time and began verbally abusing staff and making threats. They began coughing on staff insisting they had corona virus which made the staff feel distressed. Police were called and attended and dealt with them accordingly.

2.   Male customer was spraying all the Right Guard Deodorants. I approached him and asked him not to spray them as they are not testers as we do not have them due to COVID. He was very abusive and made a racial comment to me, he also swore at me several times and said he wanted to speak to the manager. He said he was going to tell the manager that I swore at him and was going to phone head office and do the same. I was too upset to stay on the shop floor due to the fact that racist language was directed at me like that in this day and age.

3.   As a female customer approached the till with goods in her arms, I said hello and asked her to pop her goods down and step back to the line. She said why and I explained just to give us both safe space as she did not have a mask on. She shouted, “the reason I do not have a mask on is because I am not well”. I said that is fine that is why we have the procedures in place. She then stated she was being discriminated against and being treated like a leper. She asked to speak to the manager. All along she was shouting, she called me an argumentative little s**t and other names and insults. She was also shouting that she was going to get me sacked today and that I thought I was better than everyone else just because I worked in a shop. She told me I should get on and scan her shopping, but I said I would wait for my manager who was on her way. She could not read my name badge so when she shouted “what is your name so i can get you fired today” I said she could ask my manager for it. As my manager arrived at the till she was still irate and then told me I could not touch her stuff or serve her so I left the shop floor while a colleague took over. There were more nasty insults that came from her but while I am still shaking from her horrible behaviour, I cannot remember the exact words.

4.   I opened the doors at 9am the customer come in and asked to collect an online order. I asked her for her order number to which she came at my face and said “why should I give you my order number I placed it in this morning you should know what it is “I apologised and asked her to keep a distance as she was not wearing a face mask. I explained as we have a lot of orders this morning, I will need the number to able to find hers. The customer said f**k off, so the security guard then come over and asked her to keep her distance because was not wearing a face mask. The customer then said i do not have time for this and gave me the number. I was able to give her the parcel but before going she shouted f****ng b**ch you are lucky today but watch what happens to you next time because you are small enough to fit in a suitcase.

5.   Male entered the shop round 3pm and went straight to the pharmacy counter asking for medication which was not for him. The sale was refused by the pharmacist and the male responded by shouting at the pharmacist, kicking, and spitting at the counter before storming out of the shop.

6.   Customer entered store with a snood around his neck covering his nose and mouth. He was doing his shopping around the store with his partner but when they came into the aisle where I was working, I notice that the snood was not covering his face at all. I politely asked him to put the snood over his nose and mouth and he said, “it is over my mouth where else do you want me to put it.?” He then proceeded to state that he does not need to wear one to which I said, “ok that’s fine”. To which he then coughed and said, “you now have Covid now ask me to leave.” He kept getting louder and louder at one point walked right up to me. At this point I asked him to leave because of the other customers. He removed the snood to the bottom of his neck still shouting “you in here cannot make the rules you know nothing; this is not going to save you” I tried walking away but he came back to have another go. Every time he kept walking back, he was shouting and swearing. Asking why we were asking him to cover his face to which I replied it is what the government have advised. He flung his products on to shelf and screamed at me “what you going to do?”. Again, I asked him to leave. Then another customer appeared from the next aisle stating that out of respect he should leave and not speak to us the way he did. The first guy left with his partner but kept walking past the shop and shouting into store. We rang the police but because we did not know the customer’s name they couldn’t do anything, they said they would look out for them.

7.   A man walked straight into men’s, started to try deodorant so politely I told him they are not testers, so he started shouting at me to “f**k off and to stop harassing him and he spat all over me. He also swore and made a racial comment to other colleagues.

8.   The elderly man asked me why i was letting people in without masks. I explained they could be exempt, and we cannot enforce them to wear them. He got very aggressive and said so I am allowing people in without masks. I explained again but he said i should be looking after the elderly and the people not wearing the masks are spreading their germs. I tried to further explain but he would not accept my explanation so I started to walk away from him as there was nothing more I could do to explain. He then asked for my name and said I was part of the problem and the reason why people are dying.

Home Office call for evidence