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C-store retailers are increasingly facing theft and violent attacks while at work

Zabbiullah Amiri was stabbed in the neck as he tried to restrain a shoplifter

LIKE most people in the country, retailers expect to go to work free from violence and harm.

But for many c-store employees across Scotland, threats, violence and theft have become an increasingly common part of their working day.

In one particularly shocking incident in 2018, Zabbiullah Amiri, of Stop n Shop on Paisley’s Causeyside Street, was viciously stabbed twice in the neck after attempting to apprehend a shoplifter.

“A man and a woman came in as customers,” said Zabbi, “and I packed everything in their bag.

“Before I knew it, the lady took the bag and was at the door waiting for the man to run.

“It was my instinct, I just grabbed his arm.

“I was trying to jump over the counter to stop them getting the stuff, but before I jumped he stabbed me twice in the neck.

“He had a six-inch knife. Where he struck me wasn’t a very serious place, but the doctors said he missed my main artery by about an inch. 

“It could have been very dangerous.”

Despite the fact that he was bleeding from his neck, Zabbi managed to hold on to the assailant for at least five minutes until the police arrived, a heroic feat in an incident sparked by the attempted theft of a bag of shopping that amounted to only £60 worth of stock.

After the police took over Zabbi was rushed to hospital with his injuries and had to take a month off work.

When the time came to return to the store, Zabbi said that his first day back was “difficult” and that he is now a “little bit nervous” and “more aware” when customers come in.

He stabbed me twice in the neck,

the doctors said he missed my main artery by about an inch.

He reckons that those working in c-stores are more vulnerable as they are often on their own, and said he wants to see “stricter punishments” for those that attack shopkeepers.

His attacker pled guilty to assault to severe injury and was jailed for 25 months, but Zabbi said he had thought the man would have been charged with attempted murder.

“He deserved more than the sentence he got. But what can you do?

“I would like to see harsher punishments, not just one or two years in jail so they can come out and do the same things again.

“I am scared that guy will come back again for me.

“You just have that feeling.”

Hussan Lal’s Ferguslie Park store has been repeatedly targeted by thieves

Zabbi’s experience was just one of several incidents involving independent retailers that occurred  in 2018, with violence (or the threat of violence) a concerningly common feature.

A robbery in a store in Kilmarnock saw a shop assistant threatened with what appeared to be a firearm, an incident in a Tollcross c-store saw an unknown item pointed at a shopworker, and a knife was used to threaten two members of staff during a robbery in a Pollok branch of RS McColl.

And on Christmas Eve, an independent retailer in Cumbernauld was rushed to hospital with severe injuries, after an alleged robbery in his Carbrain shop.

Three people have since been charged with attempting to murder the 40-year-old shopkeeper, as well as with assault to severe injury and robbery.

The issue is getting worse, according to Retailers Against Crime (RAC), who found a 15% rise in the number of incidents reported to them last year.

According to the figures reported to them, RAC said that there had been a 10% increase in the number of reports involving prolific offenders (those who have been recorded as committing four or more offences). 

It is horrendous, the stress that it has put on me and my wife.

The sentence should reflect the crime committed. We should be allowed to make a victim statement.

And for c-store owner Hussan Lal, it is exactly these kinds of repeated incidents that were the source of utter devastation to his Usave store in Ferguslie Park, Paisley.

After thieves broke in through his ceiling last April, he installed metal sheets on top of his roof and grills in his store, to ensure he wouldn’t be caught out again.

But that was exactly what happened on 29 December 2018, when the metal sheeting was torn from Hussan’s roof, his door was removed from its hinges and thousands of pounds worth of stock was stolen and damaged.

The early-morning break-in triggered an alarm that alerted both Hussan and the police, who were involved in a stand-off with the suspect for several hours before detaining him.

But being woken to news of another break in has left Hussan “constantly on edge”, and he said he is now questioning his future in the retail industry.

“It is horrendous, the stress that it has put on me and my wife.

“At what point do we say ‘enough is enough now, its time to shut up the shop and forget about it?’

“We don’t just go home now and think that the shop is shut and we can go to sleep; I go home worrying that the alarm will go off.

“I wake up a few times in the night, I am just thinking about when it is going to happen next.”

Hussan Lal said crime has made him consider leaving the industry

After “only just recovering” from the break-in last April, Hussan has faced the costs of a significant repair bill, lost hours of trading and replacing stock that was smashed and trampled on during the incident.

“It has a massive impact on us. For nearly two or three months I won’t be able to afford to take a wage out, because I have had to pay for all of the stock and all the repairs.”

Although local tradesmen came to his aid and carried out the repairs at a lower price, Hussan is worried that the break-ins will cause his insurance costs to rocket at his next renewal, or that he might not be able to get cover at all.

“You can get some of it back on the insurance, but how often can you keep going back to the insurers?

“The third time round they might say ‘we are not going to insure you any more, go somewhere else.’

“Because the law is too lenient, the culprits think that they can do it over and over again.

“These people should be made to pay for the damage they have caused: it has cost near enough £1500, if you include the stock it is £2500.

The law is too lenient, the culprits think that they can do it over and over again. These people should be made to pay for the damage they have caused.

“These are the issues that the government doesn’t understand. I would absolutely like to see new laws, tougher laws.

“The sentence should reflect the crime committed.

“We should be allowed to go into court and make a victim statement to the judges so they can understand how we feel, because they don’t have a clue.”

Not long after Hussan’s store was targeted, a Best One shop nearby was ramraided by a car that ploughed through its external wall.

Suspects made off with cigarettes and a four-figure sum of cash, with no arrests made as Scottish Grocer went to press.

According to Hussan, the recent spate of crime could be connected to changes in benefit payments and Universal Credit, with people turning to desperate measures when money is tight.

“They think they will just go into a shop and try and get what they can.

“Anything that they can get, they will get.”

Maxine Fraser, managing director of Retailers Against Crime,  said that “more investment” was needed in the police force, to combat the rising levels of theft and violence.

“The police “work extremely hard to assist retailers,” she said, but “their resources are less than it used to be.”