Retail crime ‘is destroying lives’

Convenience store bosses spell out the dangers

Anand cheema, Umar Majid and Dan Brown discuss their concerns with event chairman Gary Robertson.
Anand cheema, Umar Majid and Dan Brown discuss their concerns with event chairman Gary Robertson.

WELL-KNOWN convenience retailers Dan Brown, Umar Majid and Anand Cheema have spoken out about the cost and trauma of in-store crime.

Dan Brown, of Pinkie Farm Convenience Store in Musselburgh, said: “Retailers are now being killed and we really need to see action.

“Abuse and violence is happening all across the country – to us and our staff.

“I was recently threatened with a knife while my fiancée has faced an armed robbery. She was literally staring down the barrel of a shotgun. It’s terrifying.

“And verbal abuse, which shouldn’t be acceptable, is just a daily part of the job and it takes its toll mentally.”

Umar Majid, of Baba’s Kitchen and Costcutter in Bellshill, told how he was attacked three years ago when he confronted a shoplifter stealing alcohol.

But when the case finally got to court last year, the defendant failed to show up and there is now a warrant out for his arrest.

He said: “Such incidents play in the back of your mind and definitely affect your mental wellbeing.

“A young supervisor in our store asked a drunk to leave and received a torrent of abuse. She had to take the next day off because of the impact it had on her mental health.”

Majid added: “Community is the biggest part of our store but we’ve had to introduce deterrents. For example, we have created a rogue’s gallery of offenders in the shop.”

Anand Cheema, who runs Costcutter – Fresh in Falkirk, recalled terrifying in-store machete and crossbow attacks.

He said: “There are lots of statistics about retail crime but no real action. A lot is said but there’s no solution, support or funding.”

And, referring to the dangers, costs and stress caused by crime, Cheema admitted he wouldn’t want his children working in the sector.

He added: “It’s difficult to retain and recruit staff because no prosecution means there’s no safety net. I tell staff not to be confrontational because it’s not worth it.”

All three retailers spoke of the high costs of investing in technology such as AI to catch shoplifters and the frustrations over the time it took both for police to respond and to pursue prosecutions.

Police Scotland assistant chief constable Tim Mairs told delegates he wanted to work with retailers.
Police Scotland assistant chief constable Tim Mairs told delegates he wanted to work with retailers to address the issues.

Brown said: “The police are massively under-resourced and the reality is that, often, no prosecution occurs. The police need more help in linking offences. But it’s a cost to us whether we report it or don’t.”

The trio were speaking at the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) Crime & Wellbeing Seminar held at Hampden Park on 14 March.

They backed calls by Labour MSP Daniel Johnson, among others, for a ScotGov-run public awareness campaign, saying it would encourage retailers to report crimes.

The 2023/24 SGF Crime Report, unveiled at the event, shows that the average cost of retail crime sky-rocketed to £12,164 per store in the last year.

Taking an average from across 763 stores that responded to the crime report, the SGF said, if scaled to represent all 5,171 convenience stores in Scotland, this accounts for £62.9million.

The report also found 100% of convenience retailers agreed that shoplifting had risen in the past year, while 99.5% said it was a daily occurrence.

And 93% said violence against staff occurs at least once a week and a hate crime once a month.

Furthermore, 57% experienced daily incidents of abuse when refusing a sale or asking for proof of age. This could get worse with the incoming alcohol minimum unit price rise as well as the proposed generational ban on tobacco products.

SGF chief executive Pete Cheema said: “Retail crime is out of control – from machete and knife attacks to organised gangs roving through communities, targeting vulnerable businesses to loot.

“It’s completely understandable that some members of staff are now refusing to work for fear of their safety.

“It’s not just the escalating price tag of theft and vandalism that is costing convenience businesses, but harm to the physical health and wellbeing of retailers and staff. That trauma is then carried home to people’s families and their local communities.

“The police and courts can’t cope, and many crimes are going unreported because retailers don’t believe the authorities will respond.

“Enough is enough and it’s time for ministers to act against the tsunami of retail crime.”

Police Scotland assistant chief constable Tim Mairs acknowledged that criminal behaviour was rising above pre-pandemic levels, with the cost-of-living crisis partly to blame.

Mairs told delegates: “Shops are hubs and part of the community. You have a right to be safe and secure in your community and business.

“We at Police Scotland are keen to work with you to address the wider issues. There are always things we can do better by working with you.”