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February 1, 2016

Retail Security Risks and Training in Personal Safety

I read with interest this appalling (but familiar) story about a female security guard being stabbed with a syringe in a Sainsbury’s in Kent.


It seems that the security guard confronted the drug-taking subject as he attempted to steal a bottle of whiskey from the supermarket shelves and make off with it outside the store.  The subject -146 offences on his criminal record – had threatened people with needles on three previous occasions and was brandishing the syringe.  There was a scuffle and the guard discovered a needle sticking out of her leg.  She spent months waiting for infection results to come back from the hospital.

The case made me wonder – again – about the Training Needs Analysis for Retail Security and also the policies in place:

  • Violence in people with diagnosable alcoholism is 12 times higher than in the general population, while violence in people abusing drugs is 16 times higher than that of the general population.
  • Many shop thieves steal to support a drugs habit, which can cost users hundreds of pounds a week. They often see shop theft as the easiest way to raise money.
  • The Retail Crime Survey estimates that more than ‘one in every two people arrested for customer theft are stealing to support a habit. These offenders are more likely to be persistent thieves’
  • In some areas almost one in two (47%) of all arrestees for shop theft tested positive for opiates.  Over 80% of all arrestees tested positive for at least one drug, which may include opiates.
  • 29% of secondary school children admit they had carried a knife at some point.  That rises to 62% among excluded pupils

Drug takers and particularly serious drug addicts like heroin users are extremely likely to be carrying a blade or other weapon, especially if they are involved in criminal activity:  A 2-minute google search will show that heroin addicts are (1) very often involved in crime (and theft) and (2) very often have a knife or blade on them.

  • http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/local-news/cumnock-addict-jailed-carrying-knife-2441722#LsEDH0HegfZH9Hlw.97
  • http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/top-stories/women-terrorised-by-heroin-addict-armed-with-knife-1-2275703
  • http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/13838392.Heroin_addict_robbed_newsagents_at_knifepoint_hours_after_walking_free_from_court/
  • http://www.grimsbytelegraph.co.uk/Knife-wielding-M-Cat-addict-said-ll-kill-guard/story-26419976-detail/story.html
  • http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/crime/drug-addict-found-with-knife-in-town-centre-1-7251190

Potentially Tragic Retail Security Risks

The famous story in the retail sector is about the tragic killing of Paul Cavanagh (30) in a HMV record shop in 2007 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/norfolk/6935113.stm)

Man jailed for store guard murder

David Watson

David Watson was also convicted of wounding a second guard

A 20-year-old man has been jailed for 24 years after being convicted of the murder of a security guard.Paul Cavanagh, 30, of Rockland St Mary, Norfolk, was stabbed to death on 18 December, 2006, at the HMV store in Chapelfield shopping centre, Norwich.

A jury at Norwich Crown Court found David Watson, of Hackney, east London, guilty of murdering the guard.

Watson, who had denied murder, was also sentenced to four years for the wounding of a second security guard.

The sentences will run concurrently.

Watson had said he stole a CD from HMV as he thought he would get away with it, but he was challenged by Mr Cavanagh.

Paul Cavanagh

Paul Cavanagh was stabbed to death on 18 December 2006

The court heard that Watson had a bag with him containing £1,400 worth of hard drugs, and he was worried that if they were discovered, his dealer – to whom he owed money – would blow up his mother’s house.

Watson said after he was challenged by Mr Cavanagh he took the knife out to “scare him and escape”.

“I did not intend to harm him with it,” said Watson.

The two struggled and then fell against the door, he told the court.

“I go to get up and looked down and there was blood everywhere. I do not know what happened,” he said.

After the case, chief inspector Roger Wiltshire, of Norfolk Police, said: “This incident was truly awful – a hard-working family man lost his life after what effectively started off as a petty shoplifting.”

In the four years to 2010, there were 130.900 violent incidents against store staff in the UK.  Most attacks “do not involve such high levels of violence”.   However more than one half of all work-related violence against retail staff occurred when an attempt was made to apprehend a thief (BRC, 2007).   Retail managers would be well advised to examine their policies, procedures and training needs to ensure the best-fit for the exposure to such risk in their stores.

To read more about how we teach staff to understand the risks of knives and edged weapons:

Community Safety and the Threat of Knife Crime: Part 1

Community Safety and the Threat of Knife Crime: Part 2

We also train the most responsible and credible personal safety trainers in the UK:  Train-the-Trainer course


Gerard O’Dea is a conflict management, personal safety and physical interventions training consultant.  He is the training director for Dynamis, a specialist in personal safety and violence reduction initiatives and the European Adviser for ‘Verbal Defense and Influence’, a global programme which addresses the spectrum of human conflict.  www.dynamis.training

Gerard’s book on Lone Worker Personal Safety > Lone Worker Personal Safety: A Guidebook

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Gerard O'Dea

Gerard O'Dea is the Director of Training for Dynamis. Training Advisor, Speaker, Author and Expert Witness on Personal Safety, Conflict Management and Physical Interventions, he is the European Advisor for Vistelar Conflict Management, a global programme focussing on the spectrum of human conflict.

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