I was brought up to respect the police, and regard them as my friends. This teaching was reinforced by early experience, when I was lucky enough to find a five pound note in the gutter near our house – worth about £115 at current prices. My Mum took me to the police station at Forest Hall, on the outskirts of Newcastle, and told me to hand it in to the nice man at the desk. He explained that if it was not claimed within a certain amount of time – three months, as I recall – it would be returned to me to do with as I wished.
When we checked some months later the note was indeed still there and it came back to us. Or at any rate to my mother. I don’t recall receiving any personal benefit from this find, or indeed from the time I unearthed a reasonably large hoard of shillings, florins and half crowns in the sands of Druridge Bay. My Dad kindly volunteered to take care of this discovery for me, and that was the last I heard of it. To be fair, it was more than likely that the coins had fallen out of his trouser pockets in the first place.
Sixty years have elapsed since my experience in Forest Hall, and I suppose one must expect things to change over time. Nevertheless, I was depressed to read an article in The Times on Monday, recounting the author’s experience of trying to return a clearly stolen bag to its owner. Accosting a passing police officer he was treated with scorn, and told that if he took the bag to the police station himself: ‘We’d just throw it in the bin. We don’t do lost property any more.’
We repeatedly get the message that the British police are under-resourced and have better things to do. But what exactly are they?
On Thursday – for this was a miserable week for readers of The Times who want to take a favourable view of our police forces – there came a major undercover investigation of an organisation called Action Fraud.
Because our police don’t do fraud, either. The tiny City of London force nominally takes responsibility for all fraud cases throughout the country, but in practice they have subcontracted this work to an outsourced call centre in Gourock. This is staffed, on The Times’s account, by half-trained and utterly disinterested youths who pass their time scrolling on their phones and play-fighting with their colleagues as ‘moron’ and ‘screwball’ members of the public try to tell them of the heartbreaking scams that have, in some cases, deprived them of their life savings.
And what do they do with this information when they have collected it? In most cases, you will be unsurprised to hear, precisely nothing. Certainly no one bothers to investigate if the caller’s bank or credit card company has refunded the money they lost, as most do – because the banks can afford it, can’t they?
Indeed, most crime against corporate entities in the UK seems to be perceived as ‘victimless’, as I know at first hand from my experience working for a national food retailer.
Would-be suppliers are constantly targeted by fraudsters seeking to scam them out of goods. Typically the victims are companies on the Continent that do not necessarily have first rate command of English. They receive what appear to be orders from our company (using our letterhead and the correct management names, though not from an authentic email address), and requesting delivery not to one of our actual depots but to a warehouse of their own, usually in the London area.
Some luckless small companies have lost tens and even hundreds of thousands of euros to these scammers.
We report all these cases to Action Fraud and – guess what? – nothing ever happens.
Other potential victims sense that something is not quite right and check with our head office before despatching the goods. Twice in recent years we have agreed with these suppliers that we would try to set up a police ‘sting’ operation – alerting the local force to the time and place of the drop-off so that they could simply rock up and arrest the fraudsters.
On the first occasion ‘something else came up’ and the police did not show. On the second they did at least advise us in advance that they were too busy to be bothered, so we were able to abort the delivery.
Meanwhile another group of fraudsters is industriously targeting would-be migrants from the Indian sub-continent, offering them a range of implausibly well-paid jobs across our business (e.g. an ‘assistant sales manager’ position paying £12,000 per month plus free meals and accommodation) in return for up-front payments to assist with visas and the like. Again, we only hear of those who are suspicious enough to contact us. Again, we report each and every occurrence to Action Fraud. Again, absolutely nothing happens.
In total we have reported more than 120 instances of fraud to Action Fraud in the last two years alone, and have seen no evidence of even a single one of them being investigated.
Shoplifting is also in most instances treated as a victimless crime, with the police reluctant to take an interest unless there is physical violence involved – and not always even then. Too busy, you see.
Every Monday morning I receive a schedule of the previous week’s incidents, which typically include store colleagues being abused, spat at, punched and threatened with knives or hypodermic needles. Arrests are rare and the imposition of meaningful sentences even rarer, in the few cases that actually get as far as a court.
Domestic burglaries? Every victim I know tells me that the police have shown no interest beyond issuing them with a crime number for the purposes of their insurance claim.
No one would dispute that cases of murder, terrorism, knife attacks and rape deserve a higher priority than crimes against property, but surely in a civilised society we should be capable of providing a police force that is willing and able to investigate and take some sort of action against crime that really does impact on people’s lives – whether that is through the distress of being scammed out of your savings or the physical shock of being attacked by a violent shoplifter?
This is undoubtedly to some extent a question of inadequate resources, but surely also a question of attitude. When the police have become so achingly politically correct that they prefer to devote their time to warning those who have caused offence on social media, rather than pursuing fraudsters, shoplifters and burglars, I feel that every taxpayer is entitled to question whether they have got their priorities right.
As for Action Fraud, I doubt whether any organisation has ever been more risibly named. They are a by-word for inaction.
Keith Hann is Director of Corporate Affairs at Iceland Foods