The policing minister has urged officers not to let people off the hook if they steal food in order to feed their families amid a cost of living crisis.
Kit Malthouse hit out at the “old-fashioned” thinking put forward by Andy Cooke, the new chief of HM Inspector of Constabulary, who said police should use their “discretion” in prosecuting shoplifters.
In a tell-all interview with the Guardian, Cook spoke about the “impact of poverty and the impact of lack of opportunity” which leads to an increase in petty crime.
He made the comments as inflation hit a 40-year high of nine per cent, and the cost of living crisis continues to put pressure on consumers and people’s bills.
He told the Guardian, speaking about police officers’ actions, they have to think “what is the best thing for the community, and that individual… And I certainly fully support police officers using their discretion.”
He was criticised by Malthouse who told Good Morning Britain the use of discretion by police was “old fashioned”.
“Because people are challenged financially … that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to turn to crime”, he said.
He made other media appearances, telling LBC he had written to chief constables a year ago urging them not to ignore small crimes. He also told Times Radio that “justice should be blind”.
Tom Ironside, director of business & regulation at the British Retail Consortium, echoed Malthouse’s comments, saying: “Shop lifting is a criminal offence and must be taken seriously. It cost retailers almost £1 billion in 2019/20, adding to cost pressures for businesses and ultimately pushing up prices for consumers.
“And it is not just the financial cost of theft which is important, customers and store staff can be left traumatised by such incidents, particularly where verbal abuse or violence is involved.”
Malthouse was criticised by Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper MP, who called Cooke’s comments a “stark warning” about the difficulties people are facing, saying “he knows what he is talking about.
“While the cost of living crisis continues to hit families across the country, Ministers should be listening to these concerns rather than trying to shout them down and should take the action we need to support people through this crisis.”