Police cuts could lead to vigilante action, warns repeat burglary victim

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In-Excess Garden Centre
In-Excess Garden Centre at Poulner Hill, Ringwood

CUTS to police and rises in break-ins could force people to take matters into their own hands, warned the manager of a Ringwood garden centre which suffered the latest in a number of raids.

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Three offenders armed with implements including a sledgehammer and a crowbar forced their way into In-Excess Ringwood Garden Centre in Forest Corner, Poulner Hill, during Saturday night.

Chris Chambers, who has run the business for about 15 years, told the A&T the business had been targeted several times in the last 15 years by thieves looking for cash. But he stressed hardly any was kept on-site.

CCTV footage of the latest raid, which took place shortly after midnight, showed the intruders came in a car, said by Mr Chambers to be a grey Volkswagen Passat.

They also brought a sack truck, which led him to believe they were hoping to take a safe although there is not one in the building.

The trio, who were all wearing hooded tops and gloves and had their faces covered, used the crowbar to force open the store’s main doors, damaging the lock. They then made straight for the office, which was not locked.

“They had a good rummage for stuff and ended up taking the fibre broadband system, which is of no value to them as it’s not something saleable and only of use to the business,” Mr Chambers said.

“So we were left in the dark ages for a couple of days before we got it sorted out. This was more of an inconvenience to the running of the site as everything runs on Wi-Fi and the internet.

“We did have a couple of old fashioned portable card machines, though, so we could carry on trading. We will carry on regardless, stiff upper lip, even if I have to stand there with a money bag.”

Mr Chambers rushed to the store after its alarm system was triggered, sending an alert to his mobile phone on which he saw a live CCTV feed of the raid taking place.

Although he lives nearby, on the night of the incident he was staying in Wimborne so it took him longer to arrive at the scene.

“When I got there all the gates were open, which was quite unusual as they usually just climb over them, but I think they were after bigger and better things this time,” Mr Chambers continued.

The store was also broken into in January 2018, when only till floats containing a total of £40 in change were stolen but damage including broken windows that cost around £400 to repair.

Referring to a perceived increase in break-ins, targeting other local businesses as well as trading and private vehicles, Mr Chambers believed this was a result of ongoing cuts to policing.

Stressing he had great respect for the police, he expressed frustration that officer shortages prevented them from attending some crime scenes, including his garden centre.

Mr Chambers conceded there would have been little point in forensic examinations being carried out due to the fact the raiders’ had been wearing gloves and their faces were masked. But he had serious concerns over how victims would be forced to deal with break-ins in the future in the face of police cuts.

“It will end up being the case that we have to deal with these things ourselves,” he said.

“That’s quite frightening as you could turn up when the offenders are there and you don’t know what weapons they’ve got.

“I feel very disappointed that this is happening on a regular basis, not just to us but to other local businesses; and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

He added: “I don’t feel particularly safe coming up here when I know people were here with weapons. It is my business, but at the end of the day, it is just a job.

“Crimes like this are going to continue to happen. The police are so under-funded and under-staffed – it’s not fair.”

Anyone with information should contact Hampshire Police on 101, quoting crime reference number 44190197448, or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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