THE manager of a family-owned Lyndhurst gift shop has hit out at cutbacks affecting police response after alcohol was stolen for the second time in a month.
Over £200 of drink was taken by shoplifters who walked into Pages of Lyndhurst in the village’s High Street and helped themselves to bottles from its displays.
In the latest theft, which took place between 11.30am and 1pm on Saturday, CCTV footage caught the offender as he made off with gourmet bottles of gin and vodka valued at over £80.
This came just weeks after another man targeted the store around 1pm on 9th August, stealing about £150 of drink.
Speculating the man in the previous incident had probably scoped out the shop previously, manager Aaron Page believed the thief knew exactly what he was looking for.
“This was a very smartly dressed guy, which just goes to show you can never judge a book by its cover,” he said.
“He was very brazen. He went straight up to the beer table and put bottles in his bag and actually walked out of the shop with a bottle in his hand.
“We probably get about three or four of these thefts a year, but to get two in quick succession at about £100 a time – it hurts.”
Mr Page was prompted to report the latest incident to police online after receiving a limited response when he called the non-emergency 101 number about the previous one.
“At that time, they [the call-handler] told me the police had other pressing matters and would mark it for the attention of the local PCSO, but he was on holiday. I had actually tried calling him first,” he said.
“I understand. It’s fair enough as there are probably only about four police officers in the whole of Hampshire at the moment!
“So coming to a small shop in Lyndhurst High Street to deal with theft of about £100 of alcohol is probably a low priority and that’s fair enough.”
Mr Page stressed he had no quarrel with the force itself, but was frustrated with the continuing funding cuts it endures.
“We continue to pay our taxes, part of which is supposed to go towards the police,” he said.
“The taxes keep going up, but everything still seems to go down for the police.
“It’s a very delicate situation. It would be nice if the police showed their face as every time I have an incident I’m the one filling out the information and doing their job.”
But he added: “Sometimes you have to take it with a pinch of salt because I am just a small business and the police are very much over-stretched. You can only work with what you’ve got, and if you’ve not got much there’s not a much you can do.”
Mr Page said he is considering investing in enhancing the CCTV cameras so that their footage is fed live to a computer. This would enable him to watch things as they happen rather than only being able to check what has been recorded on an SD card afterwards.
But he remained reluctant about the idea of fitting drinks bottles with security tags and installing sensors in the store’s doorways, fearing this would detract from its friendly, welcoming atmosphere.
“We’re a small, independent family business and we have been here since 1991,” he explained.
“People like the traditional old-school values – that’s what they pay for these days, it’s the old-school Open All Hours feel. We talk to our customers, we spend time with them rather than just sell to them.”
On a positive note, Mr Page has been overwhelmed by the response his post shared on Facebook had received, with over 240,000 views. This had also resulted in a number of customers showing their support and asking whether the offender had yet been caught.
Anyone with information about the latest theft at the store should contact Hampshire police on 101, quoting crime reference number 44190314851, or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.