A concerned C-store owner from Leicester, Mr Subhash Varambhia, has alleged that police are growing dangerously disinterested in crimes against local retailers.
In June a certain shop was raided twice in one week by the same knife-wielding criminal. Both times he threatened the owner’s sister, who was on the till.
“Both times he took a knife out of his pocket and said, ‘I will stab you if you try to stop me,’” she said.
When the sister called the police she was told that it was non-urgent and the wrong kind of incident to justify a 999-call. She was instructed to call 101 instead because the suspect had left the shop seconds earlier. She had failed to call while the knife was being brandished at her.
“Let’s see if we understand the police correctly,” said Mr Varambhia, “A victim, terrorised by a crazed robber wielding a knife, is expected to phone the police within those dangerous seconds.”
Following the second knife raid the police showed up two hours later, reports Mr Varambhia, having downgraded retail crime to “zero response” despite “almost all shops having CCTV, which can yield a mine of intelligence to help tackle crime.”
Armed robbery is officially not worth a response unless there is actual injury. “”The emergency number has to be prioritised and kept available for reports of crime in action or where there is a high risk or threat to life,” said a police spokesman, even though a knife presented to a defenceless woman with menaces should surely count as a threat.
Two incidents in the same location within a few days by the same culprit used to be enough to rouse even the sleepiest of law enforcers. Apparently no longer.
“It would be funny if it were not a life-threatening incident, but such responses are just the tip of the iceberg,” Mr Varambhia complains.
He gives an example of his own dilatory treatment at the hands of the – perhaps understaffed – Leicestershire Constabulary, explaining, “We had a spate of stolen contactless cards (52) used by three criminals known to the police. Ten officers were involved in the investigation, which had no outcome.”
“Stop serving them,” was the Chief Constable’s advice when a disappointed Mr Varambhia asked what he was expected to do next. He says he is now waiting for a knife to be pulled on him when he refuses service to them, so he can vainly try calling 101 if he survives unharmed.
“Police service is virtually zero,” he tells me. “What are officers paid for?”
That’s a question increasing numbers of shopkeepers across the country are asking.