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Fears over rise in violence against shop workers in Northern Ireland

By John Mulgrew

Shop workers have spoken of their concerns about being targeted in violent robberies after fresh figures showed a rise in physical force being used against retail staff.

A UK-wide crime survey by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showed violence and abuse against staff rose by 40% in the last year.

One former worker at a Belfast retailer said he was traumatised after being tied up during a robbery.

"Assailants came in during the evening, hid in the store and jumped out after closing time," he explained.

"They tied me up, hooded me, robbed the tills and safe and told me not to phone the police. It took me a long time afterwards to recover, and cost the retailer a fair bit of sick time."

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said that "violent or abusive behaviour towards shop staff is wholly and utterly unacceptable".

"Worryingly, this new data suggests it is a growing problem despite retailers investing considerable time and resources in protecting and training their colleagues," he added.

"The connection between violence and abuse towards retail colleagues and the level of shoplifting should not be underestimated. A large proportion of aggressive incidents are thought to be linked to the act of shoplifting, and abuse is particularly likely to occur when a confrontation takes place around an attempted theft.

"This is a serious issue which puts retail workers at risk."

Another worker told the Belfast Telegraph about being held up at gunpoint in a south Belfast sandwich shop several Christmases ago.

"We were warned to be on guard, especially at that time of year as shoplifting and things like that are more likely. The man was armed with a gun, or a replica gun. The staff were on a smoke break and the customers ran off. It was very scary for a few minutes," they said.

Mr Connolly said he hoped the next Assembly "will continue to treat the issue with the appropriate importance by ensuring the right resources are in place and the right guidance to ensure perpetrators are dealt with firmly".

The survey also showed that more than 50% of retail fraud now involved digital technology. That includes the theft of consumer information and phishing.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: "These figures reflect a deeply concerning trend. Attacks on retail workers are intolerable, as are attempts to defraud customers."

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