Community Meeting in Wombwell

At a recent community meeting in Wombwell, residents spoke about how blatant some shop-lifting was in some of the local shops.

One person had seen a thief scoop up small but high value items into a bag and run out of the store – in broad daylight.

Several said that seeing such people operate in this way made shopping an uncomfortable experience.

One person said it seemed to have got worse.

A number of police officers were at the meeting, including Inspector Rebecca Richardson, from the neighbourhood team, and they explained what was happening and how they were dealing with it.

Many of the thieves were well-known.

There was a general feeling that arresting and charging people only to have the court impose some derisory fine was of little use. The offenders just carried on as before in order to pay their fine as well as feed their drug habit.

So we talked about other measures, including trying to persuade the stores to make it more difficult for shoplifters to snatch high value goods at the front of the shop.

However, the local managers said the policy on shop layout was generally determined by those higher up in the organisation.

I said that I would write to one particular store, Wilko, at that higher level, and I have now had a reply.

The Head of Profit Protection, Gordon McLardy, wrote to say that he shared the frustration.

He saw theft through shoplifting as ‘a blight on our high streets’.

This was a not just a Wombwell issue but a national one and as result he is leading on attempts by Wilko to make their stores a safe and pleasant environment for both shoppers and staff.

One of the issues for staff is the abuse – verbal and physical – that they have to endure from certain individuals who sometimes come into their shops to steal rather than buy.

But they are taking steps to improve matters – including having more store detectives – and he thanked me for passing on the suggestions of Wombwell residents.

He also said that now this issue had been highlighted, he welcomed the opportunity to work with the neighbourhood police team – and I have passed this on to the inspector.

In matters like this, there is never going to be one silver bullet to a solution, but police, community and retailers working together is a good start.