Don’t ignore shoplifters, minister says, after watchdog urges ‘discretion’

Policing minister Kit Malthouse says officers should not turn a blind eye to stealing during the cost-of-living crisis.

Kit Malthouse
Kit Malthouse

The policing minister has told officers not to turn a blind eye to shoplifters stealing food out of desperation after a police watchdog suggested discretion should be used during the cost-of-living crisis.

Kit Malthouse on Thursday accused new chief inspector of constabulary Andy Cooke of “old-fashioned thinking” for stating that the economic shock will lead to an increase in crime.

Mr Cooke had said there are “no two ways about” the impact of poverty leading to an increase in crime and that he “fully support officers using their discretion” more often.

His call came as inflation hit a 40-year high as food and energy prices soar, with the poorest bearing the brunt of rising prices.

Metropolitan Police stock
Police officers have been advised by the new HM chief inspector of constabulary Andy Cooke to use their ‘discretion’ (Nick Ansell/PA) 

Mr Malthouse, a minister across the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, told LBC radio: “I’m afraid I find it a bit old-fashioned thinking. We first of all believe the law should be blind and police officers should operate without fear or favour in prosecution of the law.

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

Asked if ministers will ensure police do not turn a blind eye to shoplifters stealing food, he replied: “Absolutely right. In fact I wrote to chief constables just a year or so ago saying they should not be ignoring those seemingly small crimes.”

Mr Malthouse told ITV’s Good Morning Britain the “cost-of-living problems people are facing are very difficult for households up and down the land – that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to turn to crime”.

Amid growing calls for the Government to go further to support the most vulnerable throughout the crisis, Mr Malthouse insisted that ministers were providing support to families.

He told Times Radio: “It still doesn’t mean that we can solve every problem, it’s still going to be hard, it’s going to be tough for families, and what we have to hope is that this storm of inflation will pass quite quickly.”

In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Cooke had said 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”.

“I think whenever you see an increase in the cost of living or whenever you see more people dropping into poverty, I think you’ll invariably see a rise in crime,” he said.

“And that’s going to be a challenge for policing to deal with.”

On 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 has worked in policing since 1985 including as Chief Constable of Merseyside Police until taking over as HM chief inspector of constabulary from Sir Tom Winsor in April.

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