HOME Office minister Norman Baker has sparked a bizarre row after questioning whether police should be responding to calls about motorists leaving forecourts without paying.
The Liberal Democrat crime prevention minister said petrol stations and supermarkets were encouraging theft by failing to take measures to stop customers driving off.
He said such a move may be a solution if forecourt retailers are not willing to stop the practice by demanding pre-payment at the pump.
He also described the self-service tills which have become a common sight in supermarkets as “an invitation to steal”.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Baker suggested that petrol companies have taken a calculated risk by not requiring all motorists to pay up front for fuel.
He said: “The question in [my] mind is if they’re doing nothing to prevent theft, why should the police bother responding to any calls they get? The police aren’t there to provide numbers for insurance companies, that’s not their function.”
He was also critical of the growing trend for supermarkets to encourage shoppers to check out their own purchases: “If the self-service till is next to the door, the doors are open, there are no personnel from the shop in sight, the tills are some way away, then it’s an invitation to steal.”
Baker’s comments come weeks after figures from the Office for National Statistics’ crime survey showed shoplifting up 6 per cent year on year in England and Wales, at a time when overall crime has fallen significantly.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: “It is frankly unbelievable that a Home Office minister should suggest the police should just ignore people who steal petrol or from a supermarket.
Neil Saunders, managing director at research agency Conlumino described Baker’s comments as “wholly ignorant”.
AA president Edmund King added: “Rather than passing the buck we need more cops in cars to catch these fraudsters.”