Thames Valley Police chief responds to 'shocking' shoplifting incidents including axe attack

The police boss has vowed to tackle shoplifting
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The Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber has vowed to tackle shoplifting after residents said the issue was ‘not being taken seriously’.

Mr Barber – who is up for re-election on 2 May – responded to claims that violent robberies in Amersham in February, which ‘shocked’ local people, showed that shoplifting was not a high priority for Thames Valley Police.

He said: “The violent incidents we saw in Chesham Bois and Amersham are thankfully rare and the police response swiftly led to the arrest and charge of a number of individuals.”

Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew BarberThames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber
Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber

The extreme bouts of shoplifting saw the owner of Londis in Chesham Bois hit in the head with an axe just days after a shopkeeper at the Ivy Stores in Amersham was robbed at knifepoint.

Following the incidents, chairman of the Amersham & District Residents Association (ADRA) Peter Matza called on Mr Barber to reassure communities that his force took shoplifting seriously.

In a lengthy response this week, Mr Barber wrote back, saying: “I am concerned as you are about shoplifting.”

His letter, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, was also addressed to Buckinghamshire Council leader Martin Tett.

In it, he outlined some of the measures Thames Valley Police has taken to tackle shoplifting, including the retail crime strategy he launched in January.

The new scheme aims to improve investigations, strengthen police presence in retail spaces and enhance the collaboration between businesses and the police.

The strategy was launched in tandem with the 60-member Thames Valley strategic retail crime forum, which Mr Barber also highlighted in his letter this week.

John Lewis, Tesco, Matalan are among the major industry names sitting on the forum, which is designed as a body for retailers to raise concerns with the police, and also includes groups representing smaller retailers.

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Another arm of Thames Valley Police’s retail crime strategy is the free rollout of the Disc App to retailers later this month.

The software intends to make it easier and quicker for shopkeepers to report non-urgent offences and share images and CCTV with neighbouring shops and the police.

In his letter, Mr Barber said: “You quite rightly mention an increase in shoplifting reports. Perversely I am encouraged by this. For too long this is a crime that has been under reported.”

The elected official, whose Home Office-set salary is £88,600, said shoplifting charges had more than doubled over the past five months.

Mr Barber also argued that building confidence will ‘only change over time and through demonstrating that the approach above can work’.

He said: “There are plenty of times when, in my view, the police have not done a good enough job in the past. However, perception is also influence by social media and rumour, not always our own experiences.”

He added: “The point is that we are moving the needle on this. There are some early successes I can point to, but inevitably the work will take time and changing attitudes may take longer, but it is something that I am determined to do.”