Monday, 8 June 2009, 8:00PM – 8:30PM
Since opening last September, Mehmood Choudhry’s convenience store in Huddersfield has been targeted by arsonists three times. He likens his son taking over the family business to feeling like he is sending him off to fight in Afghanistan.
“I feel like all the parents whose kids have gone to Iraq or Afghanistan. That’s how dangerous it is here,” Mehmood says.
“The first time, we had someone ripping the roof off, pouring petrol down in the through the roof and setting it on fire; the second time we had someone trying to break into the bottom of the shop and put explosives in the basement and try to blow the shop up and we’ve had explosives, fireworks thrown at us.”
The latest attempt caused an explosion so powerful that it cracked the foundations of the shop and caused over £10,000 worth of damage.
A recent report showed a 22 per cent rise in physical violence against shopkeepers over the last quarter of 2008. In the past 18 months, five shopkeepers have been killed during attempted robberies or from acts of violence.
And as this programme shows, shopkeepers are dodging bullets, baseball bats and even samurai swords.
Mark Jordan views the shocking CCTV footage and hears the tales of shopkeepers on the frontline battling against violence, abuse, vandalism and theft. He examines how crime is contributing to the disappearance of the neighbourhood cornershop and he investigates what measures are being taken by police and the shopkeepers themselves to battle the crimewave.
In the 1960s, a network of independent convenience stores stretching across the nation were at the very heart of the community. But the changing face of Britain means that the number of stores has fallen to a tenth of that — just twenty-two thousand.
With a recession biting and increased competition from supermarkets, even petty crimes such as shoplifting can mean the difference between a profit and loss for the week. The government introduced fines of £80 for shoplifters caught with goods of a value less than £200 as a deterrent.
But Stephen Alambritis, from Federation of Small Businesses, says this is simply not working. “It’s actually well worthwhile shoplifting these days, and you can ignore the fine. Over 40 per cent of all shoplifting fines are completely ignored. The shoplifter just tears up the fine, the ticket and it just says it’s well worth the attempt.”
Vandalism and violent attacks are also costly from both a financial and psychological point of view. Stewart Evans from Manchester has resorted to physically fighting back against the perpetrators with an iron bar. Another independent retailer is lobbying parliament to take a tougher stance on crime against businesses. Reporter Mark Jordan also meets a retailer who, after enduring seven armed robberies in six months, has spent thousands to become the first shop in the UK to install a CSI style security system. It sprays perpetrators with a special dye with a code that will stay on for weeks and immediately pinpoint which shop the person attempted to rob or vandalise.
The police have set up new initiatives such as Safer Neighbourhood — small dedicated teams of officers and police community support officers that are meant to patrol each area, contact local businesses to establish their concerns and help resolve persistent problems.
The Kumars, who famously made headlines for being attacked more than 200 times over a 10-year-period, say their local Safer Neighbourhood initiative has made a big difference. Their shop in East London saw attacks fall from 20 a year to seven a year.
“Things have got a lot better because the police are coming a lot more often here and asking our welfare and they’re better,” says Mrs Sebah Kumar.
But some critics say that many businesses are not aware of their local neighbourhood policing unit, and even the Kumars still feel frustrated by their now occasional acts of theft and vandalism.
“They’re not solving the crimes, that’s the main thing that’s what the police are for, we don’t want a shoulder to cry on, we want the crimes to be solved. That’s what we want.”
MP Alan Campbell, however, defends the scheme.
“They’re doing more than walking round…people ask for police on the beat so walking round should not be underestimated but it’s about getting information from communities about who’s committing the crime and making sure that they are there to take action. Not just reassuring…but being there if something happens to make sure that the perpetrators are caught and the criminal justice system puts them in front of the courts.”