Former Merseyside Police Chief Andy Cooke says 'police should use disrection over stealing to eat'

Andy Cooke said that petty crime fuelled by the cost-of-living crisis would pose a challenge for policing. Credit: ITV News/PA

The former Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, Andy Cooke, has said police should use "discretion" when deciding whether to prosecute shoplifters amid rising poverty levels.

The new HM Inspector of Constabulary said that petty crime fuelled by the cost-of-living crisis would pose a challenge for policing, as inflation hit a 40-year high in April.

Mr Cooke told The Guardian: "I think 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.

"And that's going to be a challenge for policing to deal with."

He goes on to say that he was not "giving a carte blanche for people to go out shoplifting", but wanted officers to ensure cases were "dealt with in the best way possible".

The former Merseyside Police Chief became HM chief inspector of constabulary in April.

But Policing Minister Kit Malthouse accused Mr Cooke of "old-fashioned thinking" for stating that the economic shock will lead to an increase in crime.

Speaking on ITV's Good Morning Britain, Mr Malthouse said: "Cost-of-living problems people are facing are very difficult for households up and down the land - that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to turn to crime".

Amid growing calls for the Government to go further to support the most vulnerable throughout the crisis, Mr Malthouse insisted that ministers were providing support to families.

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse Credit: PA

Speaking about his advice for officers, in the interview, the ex-Merseyside Chief said: "What they've got to bear in mind is what is the best thing for the community, and that individual, in the way they deal with those issue.

"And I certainly fully support police officers using their discretion - and they need to use discretion more often."

He added that he hoped to pull the current 6% charge rate for recorded offences up to 20%, and to ensure every burglary victim should receive a visit from police.

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