Sussex PCC video log: Shop workers and their families speak out about abuse in moving Christmas campaign

“I worry about Sammie most days when she goes to work, she had a flare pulled out on her recently, it’s so scary.” “My dad’s had beer thrown at his face and been physically assaulted, it’s not okay.” “My mum is just trying to do her job. She has been pushed, threatened with a knife and suffered a wrist fracture – I’m worried about her safety.” These are the testaments from the families of three Sussex shopworkers who have spoken out about the abuse their loved ones have faced during the pandemic as part of a unique Christmas campaign launching on 1 December. A film has been produced featuring the stories of real people who have put themselves at risk working in essential shops, keeping families fed and providing vital human interaction for so many people who have been alone at home for much of the year. The message is simple - show some kindness to our festive frontline this Christmas, they don’t deserve the abuse they’ve suffered.

Sussex PCC Katy Bourne

Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne devised this campaign and is saying that ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to the abuse of shopworkers. She wants to make sure we are all ‘Keeping Christmas Kind.’

With uncertainty about family gatherings at Christmas with the current lockdown ending and new tiered restrictions put in its place, we are going to see huge last-minute shopping sprees and potential tensions spilling over on the high street.

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There is a concern that those on our festive frontline could bear the brunt of some shoppers’ frustrations about wearing masks and distancing measures, leading to more abuse and assaults.

PCC Katy Bourne said: “The rise in assaults and abuse against shop workers is getting out of hand.

“This pandemic has shown how important our local businesses and their staff are to our communities. Intimidation, verbal abuse and violence of any kind against our shopworkers cannot be tolerated.

“I’m seriously concerned about the impact a Covid Christmas may have on our local stores. We have all had an incredibly challenging year but we cannot stand by and watch those who have helped keep our country going be abused in this way.

“Please share the ‘Keeping Christmas Kind’ message and help me encourage people to stop, take a step back and rethink their behaviour.”

According to retail trade union Usdaw, every minute of the working day during the pandemic, a shopworker nationally is verbally abused, threatened with violence or physically attacked. A recent survey with 100 Sussex business owners also showed that 53% had experienced an increase in abuse against their staff during the pandemic.

PCC Bourne recently established the Safer Sussex Business Partnership to identify easier ways for businesses to report crime, increase victim support for shopworkers and target prolific offenders.

Working with retail and other partners, Sussex Police are now leading the way in developing new business crime initiatives, including the training of call handlers to identify which victims should be offered support and providing advice to businesses about how best to supply evidence to ensure a successful case can be brought against criminals.

These improvements are being made to tackle business crime more effectively in the future, but senior police officers are worried about the immediate impact that this Christmas may have on shop workers. They are showing support to the Keeping Christmas Kind campaign and saying that abuse of any kind will not be tolerated.

Sussex Police’s Business Crime Lead Chris Neilson commented: “The assault and abuse of shop workers simply doing their job in our communities is a serious concern for Sussex Police and will not be tolerated. Sussex police will wherever possible take robust action against anyone targeting and intimidating retail staff. Sussex police has invested in officers that are dedicated to investigating business crimes and provided recent training to contact handlers to recognise where violence and abuse has occurred so that we can act effectively and ensure a victim can access appropriate support.”

Steve Pelling and his daughter Kayleigh were the first to be filmed as part of the campaign. He has worked in retail for over 20 years and is now a manager at a Southern Coop in Hove. He says: “I might be a store manager, but I am also a father. I still try to be upbeat but it's hard when you have someone shouting in your face or throwing beer at you. Life is incredibly difficult for a lot of people right now and we understand that but please don't make it harder for us."

Mrs Pratibha Paleja has been the owner of a small newsagents in Hastings for the last 32 years with her husband who was recently diagnosed with dementia. She is now a full-time carer whilst also managing the running of her much-loved family business.

In the film, her daughter Mita describes her mother as a superwoman and tells of the abuse she has faced during the pandemic: “My mum is just trying to do her job. She has been threatened with a knife, verbally abused and pushed. She fractured her wrist as a result of that. I’m worried about her safety. Please consider to be kind this Christmas, there is a family behind every business.”

Shop workers across Sussex are going above and beyond for their customers. Clive Mason describes how his Coop Store Manager wife Sammie takes it upon herself to do home deliveries for those who are self-isolating. He tells of his worry about Sammie when she goes to work, having suffered verbal abuse and recently having had a flare pulled out on her by a frustrated customer.

This campaign has been financially backed by The Co-op which sees on average, 730 incidents a day and The Southern Co-op which have seen an 80% rise in assaults and abuse over the last couple of months - these ranged from colleagues being threatened with knives to others being hospitalised after being attacked by shoplifters.

If you want to help share the Keeping Christmas Kind message search for #KeepingChristmasKind and #ShopworkerSuperhero on social media.