A NEW task force is calling for shopkeepers to receive the same protection as postal workers in the wake of the murder of Gurmail Singh.

In a weekend of action following the murder of the Cowcliffe newsagent, the Home Office announced a pot of £50,000, which was matched by the council, to help improve retailers’ safety.

Family and civic leaders also gathered at the murdered 63-year-old’s premises on Saturday to launch a massive petition calling for tougher sentences for criminals who target shopkeepers.

Announcing the £100,000 to help retailers, Kirklees Council Leader Mehboob Khan said: “We are in discussions with the Yorkshire Independent Grocers Association (YIGA) and the community safety unit to look at the best way to spend this money.

“We want crimes against retailers to be treated equally with crimes against Post Office workers, because currently they are not.

“It doesn’t seem fair that those who attack ordinary retailers providing a vital community service do not get the same sentences as other front line members of the country.

“Certainly many post offices now are combined with shops.

“This has to have a long-term impact, we don’t want a series of quick projects that fizzle out.

“The average cost of digital CCTV is £3,000 and we may need more money.

“One consideration is obviously the businesses that are at the highest risk.

“We should also look at the fact that shops like those owned by Gurmail Singh are not high risk but they can be adjacent to areas that are.”

Andrew Wilby, chairman of YIGA said one of the main areas of concern is the speed of response from the police when a shopkeeper alerts them to a problem, as well as fixed penalty notices for shoplifters sending out the wrong message to would-be criminals.

He said: “The government has to rethink its irritating portrayal of ‘the irresponsible shopkeeper’.

“When there are discussions about the tobacco and alcohol sales to teenagers it is always shopkeepers that are presented this way.

“They are keen to use the police to target shops for underage selling and to take away their licences but they are not so keen to support them when crime and abuse are the result of the need to challenge youngsters.

“The purchaser needs to be prosecuted.

“They look after the big supermarkets but they pay lip service to the corner shop community.”

Family and friends of Gurmail Singh are urging the public to sign their petition, which will be distributed throughout shops in Huddersfield, before being given to the Prime Minister by MP Barry Sheerman.

Clr Mohan Sokhal said: “We want to ask the government to protect the small shopkeeper and deliver tougher sentences for people who would attack them.”