Shock as MP's survey reveals scale of violence in Rotherham's shops

SHOP staff have been punched and spat at, with one threatened with a knife, a survey carried out by Rotherham MP Sarah Champion has revealed.
ACTION PROMISED: Sarah Champion is shocked at shops survey resultsACTION PROMISED: Sarah Champion is shocked at shops survey results
ACTION PROMISED: Sarah Champion is shocked at shops survey results

The Labour MP will support calls for a change in the law after conducting two surveys following increased incidents of shoplifting and concerns over the welfare of retail employees, with many saying they feel unsafe in the town centre.

Ms Champion says the results – which followed her witnessing a robbery in Lidl – have helped to identify the huge scale of the problem.

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Of the 72 Rotherham retail workers surveyed, 88 per cent had witnessed at least one theft at work in 2023, with multiple respondents saying it was a daily occurrence, or happened almost every shift. Seventy nine per cent said they had been subject to physical or verbal abuse, and more than two thirds feel less safe at work than they used to.

Shockingly, one said: “I’ve personally been threatened with a knife and seen co-workers in physical turmoil,” while another commented “I have been punched, spat at and had colleagues had to jump in front of myself whilst customers were trying to attack.”

Ms Champion said: “I am appalled at the experiences Rotherham retail workers have been subjected to.

“Everyone should have the right to feel safe at work, but the sad reality is some feel this simply isn’t the case in Rotherham. I have listened carefully to the views of those most affected and my campaign to make our shops safer has only just begun.

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“I will be discussing the results with local businesses, the council, South Yorkshire Police, senior Labour colleagues and ministers. With constituents’ backing, I will be supporting a change in the law which is being brought forward in the Criminal Justice Bill to make it a specific offence to abuse a shopworker.”

One in four (24 per cent) said they were were considering leaving their job, with 14 per cent actively looking for new employment because of the issues raised.

Eighty five per cent of respondents said they believed a stronger police presence in the community would help and almost three quarters (73 per cent) would support making it a specific offence to abuse a shopworker.

Comments included:

“The punishments are too small to deter the crimes. Limited police to deal with then, to the point that they’d rather we report offenses online than call the police. Employers are too reluctant to hire security guards, instead expecting staff to deter shoplifters, something that isn’t in our job descriptions.”

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“Worked in this store for over 20 years now it’s worse it’s ever been’ They don’t give a shit as they know they can get away with it.”

“Pillows thrown at myself, shoes thrown at myself, repeatedly asked inappropriate sexual questions by a customer.”

“I’ve personally been threatened with a knife and seen co-workers in physical turmoil.”

“For a shop worker we have to put up with too much, shoplifters clearly aren’t getting punished enough but the police are no deterrent and take too long to arrive so holding a shoplifter until help arrives is dangerous.”

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“I can safely say Rotherham is the worst place I have ever worked for abuse and theft.”

The first of Ms Champion’s surveys, published in the Advertiser last week, revealed that 64 per cent of respondents had witnessed at least one theft in Rotherham with one describing shop crime as “off the scale”.

Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber president Matthew Stephens said: “For far too long retail crime has been perceived as a victimless crime. In reality it means that businesses often face difficulties recruiting and retaining staff and, as we have seen in many cases in recent years, it has resulted in many closing their doors forever.”

South Yorkshire Police have now appointed a dedicated anti-shoplifting coordinator, who will explore ways to deal with the crime.