Iceland staff have been attacked with needles, the chain’s chairman Richard Walker revealed as he called for action against rise in shoplifting violence.
The boss of one of Britain’s biggest supermarket chains has said three of his staff have been left HIV positive after being attacked with infected needles.
Richard Walker, executive chairman of Iceland Foods, made the revelation on Friday as he spoke out about increasing violence against store staff.
The needle attacks were carried out by shoplifters, who are using increasingly violent means to steal from stores, he said.
Speaking to MailOnline, Mr. Walker said he’s receiving an average of 12 reports of “serious incidents” in his Iceland branches.
“Colleagues are being slapped, punched, and threatened with a range of weapons including knives, hammers, firearms, and hypodermic needles,” he said.
“Three of our store colleagues are now HIV positive as a result of these needle attacks.
“Other assaults have resulted in injuries ranging from a broken jaw to a fractured skull.”
Mr. Walker has now called for more powers to tackle the criminals, telling the news site his chain is losing £20 million a year through shoplifting.
He said security guards should be given the power to search suspects, which they currently can only do with their consent.
He also complained that data protection laws—in particular General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—have stopped his employees from sharing photos of shoplifters with nearby stores or posting their faces on notice boards.
“We’ve had a run in in the past with the Information Commissioner’s Office because sharing photos of known shoplifters with other stores on the high street via WhatsApp groups apparently breaches their human rights under GDPR,” he said.
“When I started working in stores I used to print of faces on the board so staff could be aware but even that may not be allowed now. We are investing record amounts on security but we need legislation and government support.”
At present, store security guards have no more powers than the ordinary public.
They are unable to search suspects without their consent, and while they can perform a citizen’s arrest, this leaves them open to being sued.
“The criminals know this, particularly the organised one, they know their rights,” Mr. Walker told MailOnline.
“We need more powers for security personnel to search suspects and detain them until police arrive.”
The Iceland chief claimed that 70 percent of calls from his chain’s staff for police help over store thefts are ignored.
“It’s not necessarily their fault,” he said. “They need to have the resources to allow them to take this crime epidemic seriously.
“We also need the courts to impose serious sentences. It’s almost become seen as a crime without punishment.”
Mr. Walker added, ‘We call them frontline colleagues because they are the first point of contact with customers but sometimes it feels like they’re on the frontline of a war.”
On Thursday, John Lewis Chairwoman Dame Sharon White said shoplifting has become an “epidemic.”
She told the BBC’s “Today” programme the retail giant had seen offences double over the past 12 months, with increasing abuse and attacks on staff.
Project Pegasus will use CCTV pictures and data provided by the shops to get a better understanding of shoplifters’ operations.
Data on shoplifting incidents from various retailers will be collected and looked at by analysts and intelligence officers under the £600,000 initiative.
Dame Sharon said that some areas had become “shells of their former selves” owing to violent attacks and repeated offenders “causing havoc” in shops.
She also told the programme that some reported incidents have not been responded to by the police.
The retail boss also said she believed the recent shoplifting spate was being driven by “crime groups” rather than thefts linked to the soaring cost of living.
Dame Sharon said she met with Sir Mark Rowley, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, earlier this week to discuss shoplifting.