Assaulting a shop worker will be made a stand-alone criminal offence under new government plans announced last week.

The move follows a spate of retail crime across the country and a rise in violent incidents against shop workers, which have soared by 50 per cent in the last year, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Under the new plans, perpetrators could be sent to prison for up to six months - the same sentence as for common assault - receive an unlimited fine as well as being barred from going back to the shop where they committed the offence.

Repeat offenders could also be forced to wear an electronic tag, among other measures.

Figures by the BRC show that 1,300 violent or abusive incidents a day were being reported in 2023 compared to 870 the year before.

The government previously said that further changes in the law were not needed to tackle the problem, but PM Rishi Sunak has now changed tack, saying that the new legislation will send a message to criminals stealing from local businesses or abusing shopworkers.

“Our local shops are the lifeblood of our communities, and they must be free to trade without the threat of crime or abuse,” he said.

Helen Dickinson, chair of the BRC, welcomed the move, saying “the voices of the three million people working in retail are finally being heard”.

In a statement, the Co-op said shopworkers would “get the protection they deserve”, pointing out that the firm had been campaigning for a stand-alone criminal offence since 2018.

Matt Steele, from the Ivybridge Chamber of Commerce, also welcomed the news, noting that assaults on retail staff were “getting more prevalent...even occasionally in Ivybridge”.

James Harris, Executive Member of the Dartmouth and District Chamber of Commerce, said any law introduced to protect retail staff from unnecessary abuse “will help reduce negative, verbal and physical, behaviour towards workers in store”.

In an incident just before Christmas, two youths threatened market stall holders at an Arts and Crafts event in Kingsbridge.

Local weaver Malcom Weir, 85, was a witness at the scene and even confronted the teenagers when they became rowdy.

He said: “I was aware a ding was going on at the other end, and when I looked up I saw these two lads yelling and screaming.

“I went striding down the hall with a face like flint. They saw me coming fairly quickly and they shot off down Fore Street, swearing and yelling.”

The two apparently came back two days later looking for him. Fortunately for Mr Weir, he was not around at the time, although the youths caused more trouble, reportedly yelling and intimidating bystanders.

The incident was reported to the police, while Mr Weir was left shaken by the experience and has suggested installing security cameras in the market.

“The trouble is you don’t know if they’re carrying knives these days - you might end up being knifed,” he said.

Devon and Cornwall Police were asked to comment.