Trouble’s in store for the robbers of shops

Herald Series: Shopkeeper Vijaya Karunaratne talks to crime prevention and reduction adviser Julie Young. Pictures: OX66198 Mark Hemsworth Buy this photo Shopkeeper Vijaya Karunaratne talks to crime prevention and reduction adviser Julie Young. Pictures: OX66198 Mark Hemsworth

THAMES Valley Police last month launched a scheme to spread online crime prevention messages and information about suspicious activity among businesses.

On the first day of the Thames Valley Business Alert scheme, crime reporter Ben Wilkinson joined crime reduction and prevention adviser Julie Young as she visited shopkeepers in Littlemore.

Miss Young said: “We are trying to cut crime by preventing it.”

The first store visited was Littlemore News in Cowley Road, which was hit by knife-wielding masked raiders in February.

Shopkeeper Vijaya Karunaratne, known locally as Karu, suffered a deep cut to his hand when he chased the robbers away.

Miss Young spoke to Karu and explained the store needed to make CCTV coverage obvious and keep doors and windows clear.

She also said store owners should keep an eye on customers as anyone suspicious could be plotting a robbery.

She said: “We like to encourage businesses to think about their security – what kind of prevention measures they can take to protect their property.”

Herald Series:

Miss Young with Abdul Ghaffar of Littlemore Mini Market

“Although we cannot stop all crime we want to encourage businesses to be proactive and try to take a positive action to try to reduce crimes. Even if they haven’t been a victim of robbery it is giving them something positive to think about.”

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Once signed up to the Business Alert scheme firms get regular emails and texts from the force.

Miss Young said: “It is about businesses networking with other businesses, and giving advice.”

Crime reduction advisors have visited the Stan James betting shop in Risinghurst and Headington Post Office in London Road following armed robberies earlier this year.

Miss Young said the shop visits would be tailor-made depending on the business – bookmakers’ staff are told to keep windows and doors clear while in cafes workers are advised to watch out for suspicious customers.

She added: “We don’t want to scare people but the most important thing is they are aware of who is coming in.”

Karu said he had found the tips useful, adding: “It is something we might not have realised.

“I feel a little bit safer. I feel I am not alone. I have a group to support me.”

But the 60-year-old said he could not forget the robbery, adding: “It is very bad. It is life and death. We have to prevent these people at any cost.”

Abdul Ghaffar, owner of Littlemore Mini Market in Cowley Road, said more CCTV cameras would help to cut crime.

He said: “There should be a camera in Littlemore. That would help.”

The 50-year-old said he installed his own cameras last year but they were torn down within a week.

ROBBERY AT A GLANCE

Robbery stats for April 2013 to February 28, 2014, compared to the same period the year before.
Business robberies

  • Oxford – up 91 per cent from 11 to 21
  • Cherwell and West Oxfordshire – up 25 per cent from eight to 10
  • South and Vale – down 17 per cent from six to five
  • Personal robberies
  • Oxford – down 21 per cent from 126 to 99
  • Cherwell and West Oxfordshire – up 19 per cent from 32 to 38
  • South and Vale – up six per cent from 17 to 18

St Aldate’s robbery team is always ready to swoop when needs arise

DETECTIVE Sergeant Pauline Heilbron heads the robbery team at Oxford’s St Aldate’s police station.

While Force CID handled business robberies, Det Sgt Heilbron’s team tackle street robberies and snatch thefts.

DS Heilbron said a robbery was often a desperate crime committed by young men.

She said: “People commit robberies for various reasons not just because they need money for drugs.

“They may need the money to live in general, or for a sense of power, or they may even feel they are just bullying.”

Herald Series:

DS Pauline Heilbron, left, and Pc Rachel Linzey at St Aldate’s police station

While robberies of personal items have fallen 21 per cent, the theft of personal items in the city has risen 11 per cent from 578 to 643 between April 1 last year to February 28.

But DS Heilbron says the two are not connected.

She said: “It does seem to be different people that are doing the thefts.

“Robbery is that bit more serious and they are generally not first time offenders.

“It takes that bit more desperation in some cases, or bravado. Some of it is bullying.

“Some of the younger ones don’t realise it is a robbery they just think it is bullying someone.”

DS Heilbron said the team had driven robberies down due to good work in spreading crime prevention advice but also by being tough with those responsible. She said: “We pull out all the stops to make sure the offenders get found and prosecuted and that in itself is a deterrent.

“That along with making sure the messages go out to people and looking out for their property.”

She said the team kept an eye on all reports of robbery and street snatch thefts before putting out resources for undercover work and patrols, adding: “As soon as we see a pattern I instigate an operation.”

During the summer months the Oxford team runs Operation Buzzard which sees officers patrol hotspots and visit language schools to help protect vulnerable tourists and language students.

KEEP IT SAFE

  • Prevention advice from Det Sgt Heilbron
  • Stick to busy, well-lit routes rather than taking short cuts when walking alone
  • Spread your valuables around your body
  • Don’t flash your cash
  • Download tracking apps and software.

ROGUES GALLERY

Herald Series:

Aaron Johnson

ROBBER Aaron Johnson was jailed for four years last month after he punched a woman in the face at a bus stop.
The 25-year-old, formerly of Windmill Road, Headington, stole an iPad and accessories, designer bags and shoes together worth £436.44 in the robbery in Oxford city centre in March last year.

Herald Series:

Michael McDonagh

MICHAEL McDonagh, 19, and an unnamed accomplice picked up a drunk clubber in his car and drove him to Oxford cashpoints after forcing him into handing over his bank cards.
McDonagh, of Bullingdon Road, Oxford was jailed for 40 months in February following the crime in November.
The victim, 22, was punched in the face and left in a field after the robbers took £300 from him and his mobile phone.

Herald Series:

Thomas Alcock

THOMAS Alcock was last month jailed for 31 months following an attack on a 15-year-old boy.
The 22-year-old, of Pooles Lane, Charlbury, was with two others when he stole the teenager’s Blackberry mobile phone and keys.
The victim woke up in hospital with a broken nose and no memory of the late night robbery in Witney in July last year.

To sign up visit thamesvalleybusinessalert.co.uk

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