THERE has been a spike in attacks on shop workers amid the coronavirus crisis.

Shoplifters have been using knives, ram-raids and even the two-metre safety rule to plunder products while helpless shopkeepers look on in terror.

Lockdown product shortages, social distancing measures and enforcing mask-wearing have all worsened the problem, according to Sussex Police.

The force said there have been 156 extra reports of violence against shopworkers this year – and that is an alarming increase of almost a third.

The Argus:

Shopkeeper Anne Martin has spent 20 years working at branches of the Co-op in Sussex.

She spoke of a climate of fear – and has asked for the location of her shop to be kept secret.

She said: “We have had staff quit because they just couldn’t cope with the fear of a knife being used against them.

She added: “We have had incidents where shoplifters have used the two-metre rule to steal from us.

“We have put spirits on the counter, stepped back and they have just grabbed them and run.”

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Mrs Martin said shoplifting has decreased because there are staff monitoring the door amid the coronavirus crisis.

But she said thieves unable to access stock have become “desperate” – leaving staff prone to threats and abuse from those who are determined to shoplift and becoming increasingly desperate during the coronavirus pandemic.

She said shopkeepers have also been struggling with customers refusing to wear masks.

“We just can’t always police this because we get so much abuse if we try to reason with people,” she said.

“It’s not really our job to be honest – it’s the law and people should just do it.”

She spoke of the great emotional toll the abuse has been taking on shop workers.

“Just because we are not allowed to answer back does not mean that what you say and do to us doesn’t have an impact,” she said.

“We are just doing our jobs and the rules in place are not to be difficult, it’s to protect you and us.”

Yesterday, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne was appointed to lead a group tackling the problem. She is now the new National Lead for Business Crime.

Mrs Bourne said: “The rise in crime against businesses nationally is getting out of hand and unfortunately we have not been able to deploy the most appropriate response in the past because we have never had a clear picture of the problem.

“Current reporting mechanisms are too time consuming for businesses who are experiencing multiple offences daily and prolific offenders are pushing the boundaries further than ever before.

“I intend to work closely with business owners, business crime experts, my PCC colleagues, our local forces and the Policing Minister himself to identify ways in which we can innovatively tackle the problem.

“This pandemic has shown how important our local businesses and their staff are to our communities. Intimidation, verbal abuse and violence of any kind against shopworkers cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.”