Shoplifters rewards by UK Police with food bank vouchers

Police ‘rewarding’ shoplifters with food vouchers after they are caught stealing

Scheme was set up in March in Staffordshire and gives shoplifters three days’ worth of supplies
The idea has angered some groups who believe it will promote theft
Staffordshire Police confirmed it has issued seven vouchers
Charity says demand for vouchers has increased 170 per cent in past year

PUBLISHED: 10:56, 11 August 2013 | UPDATED: 10:45, 12 August 2013

Shoplifters caught stealing are being released by police and handed free food vouchers.

Officers across the country have been issued with the vouchers that allow criminals to collect three days’ supply of provisions donated to food banks.

Some shoplifters claim that they had no choice but to turn to crime to feed themselves or their families.

But critics have said giving vouchers to offenders rewards thieves at the expense of law-abiding citizens.

Hundreds of food banks have been set up by churches and community groups across Britain to give emergency food parcels to those in need.

Doctors and social workers can issue vouchers for food banks to those struggling to pay for food.

But the vouchers are also given to police officers, who are allowing criminals to go free with vouchers instead of being charged for them.

Staffordshire Police have handed out seven vouchers ‘to individuals in need’ since March.

In the latest case, an unemployed shoplifter was cautioned and given a voucher as he was released from a police station after admitting stealing from a shop in Hartshill, Stoke-on-Trent.

The man, who had spent his benefits on vet bills for his dog, said: ‘I was given a caution and well and truly learnt my lesson. As I was leaving, a sergeant beckoned me and said, “We don’t often give these out, but take this please.”

It was a voucher for a food bank which I redeemed the next day.

‘Humanity is alive and well. I apologise for my actions and am thankful we have such kind people working in the force.’

Staffordshire Police said: ‘The arrested man made an honest and frank disclosure. He handed the stolen food back straight away.

‘A caution was deemed most appropriate. The custody sergeant deemed this individual met the strict criteria for a food bank voucher.’

However, the scheme was suspended in Staffordshire last night after local Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis ordered a review.

He said it was ‘absolutely not acceptable that criminals should appear to be rewarded’.

Mr Ellis added: ‘It’s not the case in this situation but that’s what it looks like it and that’s something I can’t tolerate.’

Alan Joinson, chairman of East Bentilee Residents’ Association in Staffordshire, criticised the decision to give vouchers to offenders.

He said: ‘It is ridiculous. It is encouraging people to shoplift. They will think if they get caught they will get some free food. It will probably put people off donating. I wouldn’t want something I had given to go to a criminal.’

In south London, one of the Metropolitan Police’s safer neighbourhood teams has given out 75 vouchers for the Norwood and Brixton food bank in six months.

Police community support officers in the West Midlands have issued vouchers to people they suspect to be a shoplifting risk as a ‘preventative measure’.

Food banks provide goods including milk, pasta, soup, tinned vegetables, fruit juice, tea and biscuits.

Chris Mould, executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, which runs more than 370 food banks and helped almost 350,000 people in 2012-13, said: ‘Food banks will not know whether someone has been cautioned or caught shoplifting if they are referred to a food bank with a voucher signed by a police officer.

It doesn’t say on it and should not say on it what the back history is, but it should say that the person’s need is genuine, that the person is in difficulty and needs emergency help.

‘That is what food banks are for – to provide emergency food for people when they are in trouble.

Because the public donate all the food, we need to assure them that we’re giving the food to people whose need is genuine… that is why we operate a voucher system with a whole range of professionals holding vouchers.

‘If police officers are able to choose an alternative way of dealing with someone who they believe is genuinely in trouble and has made a mistake, that actually costs the country less in the long term than taking them through the courts, but that is a judgment they make.’

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: ‘Lambeth police have given out 75 vouchers for the Norwood and Brixton food bank in the last six months. The vouchers were issued by response team officers who identified individuals or families in crisis during their day-to-day work.

‘The response has been extremely positive with all vouchers used and people helped who were not previously aware how they could access their local food bank. The vouchers have categorically not been given to shoplifters.’

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