A social media post by Merseyside Police highlighting the theft of a sandwich has been criticised as making “a spectacle of someone’s desperation” by a Liverpool poverty charity.
Earlier this week, the force’s city centre team took to social media to highlight how they had apprehended someone for stealing a “delicious warm chicken baguette” from Greggs. The post was viewed more than 60,000 times before eventually being deleted.
Writing to Emily Spurrell, Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter Mitchell, chief executive of the Big Help Project criticised the post saying it “trivialised” the issue of poverty for “social media humour.”
The Big Help Project, located in Kensington, seeks to help those battling poverty with support through food, housing and money advice. In his letter to Mrs Spurrell, charity boss Mr Mitchell said the post had “humorously” described the theft adding how he was compelled to “bring attention to the insensitivity of such messaging.”
He added: “Particularly a force whose own Chief Constable has stated her sadness “to know that there are so many families in desperate need in Merseyside” with regard to food poverty across the city region.”
The full post said: “Theft of any nature will not be tolerated in our city. We have this morning arrested a male on suspicion of the theft of this delicious warm chicken baguette after a store made us aware that the suspect had just left without paying for it.”
Last month, following ratification from the National League, Mr Mitchell and The Big Help Group became majority shareholders of Southport FC - acquiring shares from owner, Ian Kyle. The organisation is the profit-making arm of the business with no connection to their charitable endeavours.
In his letter to the police commissioner, Mr Mitchell expressed concern at an apparent lack of care for those in poverty from the force and compared it to one of the most famous French novels of all time. He said: “We work with the hope that the institutions designed to protect those people have as much concern for their wellbeing as we do.
“From the tweet published by Merseyside Police on November 20, this doesn’t seem to be the case. To make a spectacle of somebody’s desperation has the potential to contribute to a highly dismissive and critical public perception of those experiencing poverty.
“It is something we are used to seeing in 19th century fiction as Jean Valjean’s desperate act of stealing a loaf of bread is at the core of Les Miserables.”
The former Labour councillor added how the force’s online post, although deleted, would not fully disappear from public view and could have lasting consequences. He wrote: “The permanence of social media not only opens that single person to be subjected to widespread ridicule but extends its cruelty to the thousands who are suffering under that same hunger and desperation.
“It is not to be disputed that issues as critical as poverty and hunger should not be trivialised for the sake of social media humour. We urge you to address this matter internally and consider sensitising your team about the importance of thoughtful communication, especially when dealing with topics as sensitive as basic human needs.”
Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell said: “I’m aware of a post on a Merseyside Police X (formerly Twitter) account in relation to the theft of a food item. I have made enquiries with Merseyside Police and while the message was intended to raise awareness of the impact of shoplifting and retail crime, it is recognised that the cost-of-living crisis has had a huge impact on our communities and no one in our society should need to steal in order to eat.
“In light of these sensitivities, the post was deleted. While stealing can never be condoned, the theft of food is a sign an individual is in desperate need and it’s vital we do everything to support the most vulnerable and treat them with empathy.
"Merseyside Police are already engaged with the retail industry and also work with our community safety partners to try and ensure those in food poverty are directed to support services where appropriate.”