VIJAY Patel lays in his hospital bed covered in tubes after being brutally attacked in the line of duty.
But the 49-year-old isn’t a police officer or in the army – he’s a shopkeeper who was battered to death by a teenager he refused to sell cigarettes to.
Mr Patel, a father-of-two, later died from his injuries in hospital.
Horrifyingly, attacks like Vijay suffered are on the rise in the UK -with 115 shop workers being threatened with deadly weapons such as knives, guns and dirty needles every day.
Only last month, a Holland and Barrett shop assistant was battered by thugs for attempting to stop them from leaving a Croydon store after they were allegedly caught shoplifting.
Britain is traditionally a “nation of shopkeepers”, with 3million people working in retail in the country – so why are these same shopkeepers now faced with a rising tide of violence on a daily basis.
Assaults and threats toward retail and wholesale staff are at the highest since 2012, with experts citing benefit cuts and soft sentences for those convicted of attacks on shop workers as a possible cause.
Here, four Co-op shop workers speak exclusively to Sun Online about the terrifying violence they’ve faced.
‘He lunged at me with a knife’
Yousif Al-Khishali, 25, a student, has worked in retail for seven years and at Co-op’s Stockport store since last November.
He says: “A guy walked in with a knife when we were closing up at 10pm a couple of months ago.
I’d left the shop floor to pick up some bread when I heard my colleague Molly saying, ‘I can’t open it’ over and over again on my headset in a distressed voice.
I thought she was telling a customer they couldn’t come in, but when I took a closer look, I saw a guy with a hood tied around his face, holding a knife against Molly’s neck.
I walked towards them slowly but when he saw me he rushed towards me, lunging with the knife and I thought I was going to get stabbed.
He told me to take him to the safe – but I didn’t want to so I grabbed onto a bread trolley and jammed it into his hip.
We had a bit of a tussle then I ran through to the back area and out the fire door. But I had two colleagues inside — Molly and Eleanor, who were hiding in the chiller — and I couldn’t abandon them.
I ran round to the front of the store and went back in, this time with a customer from the pub next door who had seen what was going on.
That’s when the thug gave up and ran past us, brandishing his knife at us in an overhead stabbing motion before running away.
Molly was distraught and it was so upsetting to see. I was the manager and they were my staff and you feel so responsible.
I was back in work the next day but I kept replaying it over in my head. Could I have done anything different?
Any free time I had, I was thinking about it. It’s been nearly two months now and it is easing off a little – but the police still haven’t caught him.
Now, when I lock up, I make sure everyone’s on the shop floor just in case anything happens.
That was the first time someone had pulled a weapon on me, but I’ve had cars ram-raiding stores I’ve worked at before.
The violence is getting worse and it’s happening more and more. Nothing’s going to stop them.
Molly was off for a couple of weeks and she was extremely shaken up. She had the worst of it compared to me as she had the knife pulled on her. We’ve spoken about it a little but what can you say? It’s not like a night out or a funny story — this is something we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives.”
‘I was chased out of the shop with a metal chain’
Kate Graham, 39, is married with two children and is regional manager across Northern England and has responsibility for 200 stores.
She says: “I’ve been held to ransom with a screwdriver, threatened with a knife, and even chased out of the shop with a metal chain during my time working in supermarkets.
The guys with the chain came in during the day and told the security guard menacingly he was going to come back later and take a whole trolley full of shopping without paying – and that’s what he did.
The security guard was scared and hiding in the back and so I went to try and stop him but he just ran at me with this metal chain and chased me down the aisles and out of the shop. I was petrified.
But the violence has really escalated over the last few years. It’s quite incredible, the amount of armed robberies and break-ins.
I’ve never seen so many guns, knives, machetes, axes and hammers.
It’s usually more than one person, and they know what they’re doing.
I’ve got two kids myself and if they wanted to go and work in a supermarket I don’t think I’d be happy about that.
Lots of shop workers are ending up in hospital after being stabbed and hit with bottles.
It keeps me up at night.
‘I’ve come home covered in other people’s blood’
Matt Fernley, 34, is married with two children and is a store manager in Manchester city centre.
He says: “I’ve been personally threatened with hammers, knives and dirty needles while working at Co-op.
I get threatened to have my face smashed in on a daily basis these days. It’s constant.
The front door has been smashed in on two separate occasions while we’ve been trading.
I had a member of my staff hit with the wet floor sign and my security guard assaulted at the door for no reason at all.
And then you get the verbal abuse that comes with it — people screaming at you in the face, calling you names and telling you what they’re going to do to you.
Staff have had stuff thrown at them and get punched, slapped and kicked. I’ve had members of staff been seriously beaten up in the last 12-18 months.
We’ve recently had two of our lads go to court because a knife was pulled on them by a man trying to steal stock. And just yesterday, we stopped a man stealing medicines.
As we approached, we asked him to remove the stuff from his coat and he stuck his hand into a pocket and pulled out two dirty needles and said, ‘Come and get it if you want it!’
It’s become part of the norm because it’s happening so regularly.
When I open up the store at 5am, I get a feeling at the pit of my stomach where I’m thinking, ‘What’s going to happen this morning when I open those doors?’
I know for a fact in the next two hours we’re open I’m going to get some kind of trouble and I don’t know what that will be. It might be someone trying to nick something or I might be in a position where I have six lads stood around me, threatening to smash my head in.
My wife thinks I need a new job. I’ve come home from armed robberies, covered in other people’s blood and sometimes my kids overhear me talking about the violence.
I try and hide it from them but they shouldn’t have to listen to this kind of thing.
They came to meet me a couple of weeks ago at the store while I was dealing with an incident and I couldn’t believe they had to see it. Now I don’t let them come to the store.
These people walk around and there are no consequences. There’s literally no comeback, no fear.
Police rarely come to any of these incidents and when they do, they get zero prison time and they’re back out on the streets a few weeks later — that’s the scary aspect of it.”
‘I was threatened with dirty needles trying to stop thieves stealing steak’
Jean-Marie Hughes, 33, is an area manager across the North West of England.
She says: “When I was 22 I was a store manager when two offenders came in asking for steak and threatened to stab two colleagues and I with dirty needles if we stopped them.
I was so frightened they were going to stab me I just stepped back and froze; I didn’t do anything.
I’ve since had to support colleagues threatened with guns and machetes.
It’s frightening to see how the level of crime has increased.
The whole persona of these criminals is they don’t care. Even though we can’t see their faces, we know they’re the same offenders, and it’s driven a lot of fear and upset.
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Co-op is launching a campaign for stronger protection for shop workers
- The latest statistics show that 115 shop workers are attacked every day – that’s 42,000 violent incidents a year.
- Estimates show that assaults and threats toward retail and wholesale staff are at the highest level since 2012.
- Co-op has launched a Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities campaign, and is working to raise awareness of the issue of violence and abuse against shop workers.
- They’re calling on the government to create a new offence, which would carry higher penalties for attacks where the shop worker is enforcing the law on age-restricted sales.
- They also want a review of existing sentences handed down to attackers, new guidelines on sentencing for such offences and a major boost to police resources to help protect communities and their shop workers.
Every worker takes it very differently; some are in a high crime area and they feel it’s part of their job. Others who experience incidents haven’t come back to work because the fear and the pressure from their families is too great.
You see CCTV footage afterwards where workers have been told to lie on the floor with guns to their head and when you watch it played back, you see how frightened for their life they are. It’s soul destroying.
There needs to be harsher sentences and more investment in the local community to stop these incidents happening in the first place, at root cause, with education. We need to help people on drugs to rehabilitate and build lives without crime.”
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