Minister rejects chief inspector’s call for police to use ‘discretion’ with desperate shoplifters

Kit Malthouse argues ‘the law should be blind and police officers should operate without fear of favour’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 19 May 2022 09:19
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Minister rejects call for police to use ‘discretion’ with shoplifters

A policing minister has rejected a suggestion from the HM chief inspector of constabulary that officers should use “discretion” when deciding whether to prosecute desperate shoppers during the cost-of-living crisis.

Kit Malthouse said that “justice should be blind” and said he had written to chief constables last year to stress that they “should not be ignoring those seemingly small crimes”, and highlighted government support.

As inflation hit a 40-year high, Andy Cooke, the HM chief inspector of constabulary and former chief constable of Merseyside Police, suggested on Wednesday the cost-of-living crisis will “invariably” fuel a rise in crime.

“I think whenever you see an increase in the cost-of-living or whenever more people dropping into poverty, I think you invariably see a rise in crime,” he said. “And that’s going to be a challenge for policing to deal with”.

Speaking about his advice for officers, Mr Cooke added: “What they’ve got to bear in mind is what is the best thing for the community, and that individual, in the way they deal with those issue.

“And I certainly fully support police officers using their discretion — and they need to use discretion more often.”

Mr Cooke told The Guardian he was not “giving a carte blanche for people to go out shoplifting”, but wanted officers to ensure cases were “dealt with in the best way possible”.

But asked about the discretion comments on LBC Radio, Mr Malthouse said on Thursday he had “a lot of respect” for Mr Cooke, “but I’m afraid I find it a bit old fashioned thinking”.

He stressed: “We first of all believe that the law should be blind and police officers should operate without fear of favour in the prosecution of the law.

“Secondly, that it’s not quite right to say as the economy fluctuates so does crime. We’ve seen economic problems in the past when crime has risen or not.

Cost of living: how to get help

The cost of living crisis has touched every corner of the UK, pushing families to the brink with rising food and fuel prices.

  • Citizens Advice provides free help to people in need. The organisation can help you find grants or benefits, or advise on rent, debt and budgeting.
  • If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email, jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

“We actually think there’s a growing body of evidence that says poverty doesn’t cause crime, actually crime and violence cause poverty and where you remove the crime and the violence very often people and neighbourhoods fly and prosper.

“That’s not to say there isn’t a cost-of-living challenge, of course there is, but our job is to make sure we drive down crime, not withstanding that challenge for everybody”.

Asked whether business owners should be assured the police will not turn a “blind eye” to those stealing food, he said: “Absolutely right. I wrote to chief constables just a year ago saying they should not be ignoring those seemingly small crimes.”

He also told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The broad rule is that justice should be blind and I hope and believe that is in the principle that sits behind not just the police, but the operation of the courts as well.

“But what should we be doing? Well people should be turning to the comprehensive package of measures we’ve put in place to help with the cost-of-living.”

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