Friday, 12 August 2022

'The police don't care'

POLICE are neglecting their job to solve crime in the Henley area because it is too much work, it has been claimed.

Philip Collings, the parish clerk for Sonning Common, said the public had lost faith in Thames Valley Police’s ability to catch offenders.

He said they had effectively allowed:

• Drug dealing to take place at the village skate park and playgrounds and outside a school.

• Shoplifting at village stores.

• Drivers to ignore traffic regulations and yellow lines.

Mr Collings was responding to plans by the new Henley area neighbourhood police sergeant Neil Anns for a new local area forum, saying it would be “a talking shop”.

It is the second time that he has criticised the force over its attitude towards crime following an arson attack on the skate park by thieves who have still to be apprehended.

Sgt Anns, who took up his role about two months ago, wrote to all 22 parish and town councils saying he could no longer afford to have officers attend their monthly meetings due to a cut in numbers.

Instead, the new forum would comprise council chairmen and selected others and would meet quarterly.

Mr Collings replied, saying Sonning Common parish councillors had the highest regard for the few officers they did see and deal with. He continued: “They also understand that as a professional police officer you are simply trying to follow orders from above and to that end your suggested forum is a possible means of dealing with the continuing evisceration of policing across the nation.

“However, they do not see how the proposed forum can be any more than a means for all 22 parish and town councils to come together and eventually agree that the scale of the problem exceeds your local police resources and hence what is really needed cannot be done — a talking shop in other words.

“It seems to them to be part of a pattern of increasing neglect of what the public that they represent wants and expects from the police body that was once called a force, but no longer.”

He said the police office in Lea Road, Sonning Common, was shut earlier this year so there was no police presence in the village for the first time in living memory.

Mr Collings continued: “We know that there is a considerable amount of drug dealing going on in our skate park, at Widmore Pond and in all three of our playgrounds as well as outside Chiltern Edge School and around the village hall but there is no police presence to deter or investigate it so it flourishes.

“Our Co-op has had to employ a security guard since someone decided that the theft of less than £200 from a shop is no longer a crime. Now an active robber can easily remove at least £1,000 of goods per day from local shops with complete impunity.

“There is no apparent enforcement of traffic regulations, yellow lines etc that are flouted daily in the village centre.

“The public has little or no faith that Thames Valley Police is even interested in their concerns. When they see no attempt being made to investigate matters such as the destruction of our Fish office by a stolen car they conclude that Thames Valley Police’s only interest is in handing out crime reference numbers.

“We hear that it is now Thames Valley Police policy only to investigate crimes against persons and to take no action on those involving property.

“With the summer coming we can expect a resurgence of antisocial behaviour with no likelihood of any deterrent presence or quick response to reports of trouble.”

Mr Collings said the police had failed to properly investigate the incident at the skate park in August in which four golf buggies stolen from Caversham Heath Golf Club, near Mapledurham, were set on fire, causing damage running into thousands of pounds.

At the time, he criticised the police, saying: “They have been doing diddly squat since this was reported. They just want to give out a crime number and assume everything is covered by insurance.

“Their behaviour at present suggests they can’t be bothered. It falls into the same category as thefts from farms and things like that — it’s too much like hard work to get off their a***s and do anything.”

Inspector Mark Harling, who was then head of Henley police, admitted the force had made mistakes in its response to the crime and pledged to ensure such failings didn’t happen again.

In his latest attack, Mr Collings said: “What quickly became clear was that, until we complained very loudly, nobody made the obvious connection between the theft in one police area and the criminal damage here.

“The much-belated investigation that followed was, unsurprisingly, unable to find any of the miscreants.

“In light of all this and more, being asked to attend meetings of a very large, remote talking shop where there are multiple and competing agendas giving rise to more admin and more minutes seems most likely to be ineffective except in ticking some community engagement box on the Thames Valley Police reporting system.”

He said most people were aware of the “extraordinary effectiveness” of former New York City police commissioner Bill Bratton’s zero tolerance approach and wondered why the lesson hadn’t been learned here.

Mr Collings added: “Our preference at the bare minimum is to do as has been done for many years, which is to receive a monthly report specific to our village delivered in person by an officer who is familiar with us, our residents and our concerns and who is able to answer questions.

“Rarely did that require said officer to be present for more than 20 minutes, which seemed to us not to be too onerous an obligation.

“It was such reports and the discussions arising from them that led us to invest in installing the CCTV system that your colleagues regularly use in the course of investigations.”

He said that nevertheless council chairwoman Carole Lewis would attend the first meeting of the forum but with “severe misgivings as to its potential value”.

Mr Collings copied his reply to Thames Valley chief constable Francis Habgood, police and crime commissioner Anthony Stansfeld and Henley MP John Howell.

Chief Inspector Rob Murray, deputy local police area commander for South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse, said: “The local police area are committed to engaging with all communities and will continue to do so. 

“At this time we are consulting with our partners to achieve the most effective method of engagement going forward. 

“Crime rates across the area remain low.”

In his letter, Sgt Anns said: “I can no longer afford to have officers attending meetings due to reduced establishment numbers and I am sure you have seen the drop-off in this engagement in the last few years.

“I know I cannot solve many problems on my own and multi-agency partnerships are the best way forwards.”

Sgt Anns said a similar forum was effective in Aylesbury where he worked previously.

He said: “Many of you may have seen similar concepts before but my aim is to remove the need to attend parish councils regularly but maintain our engagement with yourselves and bring some partners in such as fire, housing and other interest groups.

“I am under no illusion that this will be a simple task but it is not unachievable. We will be able to ensure the right people are in a room talking about the issues, how we can problem-solve, who is taking responsiblity for the problem-solving and also ensure we, the police, are fully informed as you folks are.”

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