Masked knife attack at Hatfield shop raises safety concerns amid new facemask regulations

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The man seen wearing a facemask and disposable gloves stole £100 from R N P News in Hatfield at 6.30am on Friday, 24th July

The Federation of Independent Retailers (NFRN)’s National President has spoken out following a knife attack on a Hertfordshire retailer store, which took place on the first morning that face masks became compulsory in English shops.

Nilesh Patel’s wife, Rikki Patel, of R N P News in Hatfield, was held up at knife-point on 24th July at 6.30am when a masked and gloved man ransacked the till, making off with £100 cash.

CCTV footage shows the moment of the attack, when the unknown assailant pulled a knife on Rikki in the R N P News store.

Store owner Nilesh said: “I was at home whilst my wife Rikki was opening the store. It was the first morning of the new Covid-19 face mask regulations in English stores.

“The hooded attacker entered the store with a mask on and dawdled around the shop for a moment, before approaching the till and attacking Rikki.

“Rikki immediately held her hands up and opened the till.

“As soon as the attacker left the shop in a hurry, a council worker noticed the commotion and rushed into the store to aid Rikki.

“They called the police straight away and Rikki had already pushed the panic button.”

Police officers attended to the scene 15 minutes after the incident happened.

“We’ve had a fantastic response from the police – they arrived straight away, immediately took a criminal profile and radioed the information in to other officers,” Rikki said.

“I first learned of the attack when a customer knocked on my door to tell me the news.

“I rushed to the store immediately.”

Store owner Rikki Patel stood in fear as the masked man stole £100 from the till

Speaking of the new face mask regulations and the risks involved, Nilesh explained: “Usually, you are able to notice someone that is intentionally covering their face and ask them to remove their mask or show their face.

“Because of the new regulations you can’t tell who is genuine and who is not, so it’s far easier for criminals to go unnoticed.

“I understand that the government has made face masks compulsorily to protect everyone against Covid-19, but why now instead of when the virus was at its peak?”

Whilst the Patel’s have received significant support from their local community and customers, the attack has still had lasting effects on Rikki.

Nilesh explained: “My wife is still too afraid to be in the store alone – I always have to be with her now.

“If I need to leave the store at some point during the day, one of my neighbours comes over until I’m back.

“We’ve received such a heart-warming response from the village and our customers – they’ve all brought a lot of moral support. They had a collection for us and presented us with flower and money.”

The Federation of independent retailers (NFRN)’s National President Stuart Reddish said: “Retailers face verbal and physical abuse on a daily basis, with attacks like that at Nilesh’s store being all too frequent.”

“It is unfortunate that the steps being taken to protect the local community during the coronavirus pandemic have also helped this criminal protect their identity when committing this appalling attack.

“The new face mask regulations in England and Scotland undoubtedly make it easier for attackers to commit crimes against retailers.

“Although the police responded fantastically to this incident, we are till urging for more police support.

“Criminals need to know that they will be stopped – regardless of the new face mask laws.”