Shopworkers trade union leader John Hannett has questioned the decision of Channel 4 to screen a documentary featuring a thief showing how to steal from shops. The Benefits Street programme was shown on Monday 6 January.

Usdaw’s survey of violence against shopworkers shows that there were around 120,000 assaults last year, with a high proportion linked to shop theft. Customer theft costs the UK retail industry £2.2 billion per year, a price that is paid by all shoppers.

John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary says: “Shop theft is a very serious issue for our members working in retail. It is all too easy to portray it as a victimless crime against large companies, but often shopworkers can be subjected to verbal abuse, threats and physical violence from criminals stealing from shops.

“So it was very concerning that Channel 4 decided to broadcast advice from a serial shop thief on how to steal items from stores without setting off alarms and how to remove security tags without damaging the goods. We were also concerned to hear the Channel 4 voiceover say ‘Danny is going to work’ when he was referring to a shop thief breaching his ASBO by entering Birmingham’s city centre shopping area with the intent of stealing from shops.

“We would like all broadcasters to consider carefully how they portray what they call ‘shoplifting’. Shop theft is not victimless, it has serious consequences for retail staff and can often be linked to organised crime and drug dealing.”

Usdaw is backing an amendment to the Government’s Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill that will provide stiffer penalties for those assaulting a worker serving the public. The amendment, tabled by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, will make the assault of a worker serving the public an offence in its own right. It is due to be debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday 14 February 2014.