STAFF in Co-op convenience stores suffered a staggering 39 per cent increase in violent attacks last year, according to a new study compiled by the Co-operative Group.
The report has been launched this week to coincide with the National Respect for Shopworkers Day on Wednesday, organised by the trade union, Usdaw.
It comes as the Government, police and retailers are being urged to take more action to counter the menace of store crime. Last year alone the Co-op Movement spent over £ 14 million on crime prevention measures.
Martin Beaumont (pictured), Chief Executive of the Co-operative Group, said: "The growing number of assaults on shop staff is a deeply worrying trend. These are shocking statistics that can only be reversed through a partnership approach to curbing crime.
"Store security measures and staff training need the support of a responsive police force, and the police need the support of Government policy which addresses violent crime in the round ? before, during and after it is committed. At present this is woefully lacking.`
The study found that shoplifters were responsible for almost seven out of 10 of assaults (69 per cent) in Co-op stores, while a further nine per cent of assaults occurred during robberies.
Disturbingly, weapons were becoming an increasing feature of robberies ? used in one in two raids, while guns were used in one in four. And, the overall risk rate of assault had risen from 7.5 per 1000 staff in 2001 to 12.5 in the past year. Incidents of physical assault against staff jumped from 502 to 698 and ranged from them being pushed around to being hit with weapons, including sticks and crowbars.
The study, examining crime figures from 2,000 convenience stores with a turnover of £ 5 billion, employing 55,000 staff is the first to highlight Co-op stores.
The total number of criminal incidents to hit the Movement's c-stores last year was 24,440 compared with 23,353 in the previous 12 months, a rise of over 4.5 per cent. Total reported losses were £ 3.4 million, up from £ 2.4 million the year before.
As well as assaults on staff, criminal damage, fraud and arson attacks were also up. Verbal abuse to staff was down, along with burglaries, customer theft and till snatches, thanks to improved security measures.
While the study focused on Co-op stores, Mr Beaumont said its findings reflected a general trend faced by the 650,000 people who work in the UK's 53,000 convenience stores. And, he urged the Government to work with retailers to combat the problem.
"We know from our own experience that it can sometimes take days for the police to respond to an emergency call to a store and on occasion, there's no response at all. That's because retail crime isn't a priority in the Home Office's national policing plan. It should be, as these statistics prove," he said.