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Minister Says Police Should Not Show "Discretion" To People Stealing Food During Cost Of Living Crisis

2 min read

The policing minister has said officers should not use discretion when deciding whether to prosecute people who are caught stealing food to eat amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

Kit Malthouse said the law should be "blind" in its application and disputed the claim that a greater prevalence of poverty and personal hardship lead to increases in crime.

The minister was responding to comments by Andy Cooke, the new chief inspector of constabulary, who on Wednesday told The Guardian that police officers should exercise "discretion" when dealing with individuals who are caught stealing food in the coming months, when rising prices and bills are set to push more households into poverty.

Cooke said he wasn't endorsing "carte blanche for people to go out shoplifting" but supported officers handling cases in "the best way possible" for those involved and their communities.

The police chief said there was "no two ways" about it that poverty and a lack of opportunity leads to an increase in crime.

"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."

He added: "There's always individual cases where you can use your discretion that doesn't necessarily result in a prosecution but is dealt with in the best way possible."

Cooke spoke to the newspaper on the week that inflation in the UK hit a 40-year high and ministers face growing pressure to make more support available to households being hit by rising energy bills.

Malthouse disagreed with the police chief's remarks, however, telling LBC this was "old-fashioned thinking" and that a rise in poverty hasn't always resulted in a rise in crime in the past.

"I am afraid I find it a bit old-fashioned thinking," Malthouse said.

"First of all, we 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 have seen economic problems in the past when crime has not risen."

Malthouse added: "Actually, crime and violence cause poverty and where you remove crime and violence very often people and neighbourhoods fly and prosper.

"That is 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 notwithstanding that challenge for everybody."

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