‘I’m quite shocked’: Tory PCC candidate brands March ‘lawless’ after meeting victims of repeated crimes
PUBLISHED: 15:57 09 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:03 09 March 2020
Former detective Darryl Preston – now a police and crime commissioner candidate for Cambridgeshire – says he is “shocked” by the escalating attacks on two March businesses after we brought him face to face with the victims.
"To be honest, having served 30 years in the police service myself and having joined the police to help victims, I was quite shocked," said Mr Preston.
The victims told him of thefts and violent incidents that are happening to them on an almost daily basis in March.
In the most recent incident yesterday (Sunday) masked youths used a BB gun to fire a bullet through the window of one of the businesses.
Mr Preston of Ely, adopted last month as the Tory PCC candidate, heard of the incidents during an unannounced visit to our newsroom in March to introduce himself.
After hearing of our preliminary investigation into the attacks he decided to visit the two businesses, a convenience store and a petrol station.
- Both business experience shoplifting incidents on an almost daily basis
- Both are being targeted by a gang of masked youths
- The crimes have escalated to violent attacks, with BB guns fired at both premises
- Victims claim they've been told to report serious incidents to Police 101, online or over Facebook messenger - and not by dialling 999.
The owners of March Convenience Store and Off Licence on Station Road spoke candidly about how they were attacked yesterday (March 8) when a gun bullet was shot through their shop window and a member of staff assaulted.
The masked youths were spotted inside the store stealing cans of Red Bull, beer and chocolate when they were confronted by a staff member who wishes to remain anonymous as he fears for his, and his family's, safety.
He then walked outside with the gang before an unknown liquid was sprayed into his eyes and he was punched before the gang made off.
He said: "They tried to spray it into my eyes, but I was wearing glasses. We have had a lot of problems with shoplifting.
"They come in [the shop] so quick and take things. Which is why I went outside and asked 'why are you doing this?'. They gave me bad language (sic) and then sprayed something into my eyes.
"It is always five or six of the same people, sometimes stealing chocolate. The guys even came twice yesterday. And made a gunshot in the window."
Around two weeks ago he believes it was the same group of people that slashed the tyres of two staff members vehicles parked outside the shop.
The member of staff said: "They punctured [the tyres] of my vehicle, both wheels in the front of my car, two vehicles - they also did another car.
"We don't know why they are doing this. The police just get the information from us."
Despite this happening to the family business for around six months "every day", police are still yet to catch the group who often visit the shop more than once a day.
Another member of staff said: "We are now always looking out onto the street [to try and spot the gang] and we are just scared all the time.
"This happens every single day, not once or twice a week, every single day and has done for the last six months, all out of the blue."
Meanwhile, a few yards down Station Road, the also privately-owned March Service Station and Convenience Store have been facing similar attacks.
Three gun shots were fired at the building, shattering the glass of the store and neighbouring car dealership.
One member of staff who also wishes to remain anonymous told us of regular fuel thefts, including visits from the youths.
The staff member said: "I do feel really sorry for the man at the shop down there [Station Road], I know he has had some real problems.
"We are told to report thefts via 101 or online, sometimes using Facebook. Nothing seems to happen as a result. We also have regular thefts.
"We had one man come in at around Christmas time who just walked in and went straight to the chocolate, took some bars and just walked out."
The gunshots, believed to have been fired from a BB gun, have left considerable damage to both businesses, with expensive repairs required.
After speaking to the shaken and frustrated victims, Mr Preston went to March Police Station to report his concerns.
While there, it took officers around 20 minutes to find the report of yesterday's shop lifting incident where a BB gun was fired at a shop keeper in Station Road.
Mr Preston said: "I'm quite shocked about the experiences I've heard today, particularly what the convenience store shop keeper said to me.
"He says that daily people are stealing from him. It's got worse now with violence involved, and he's had a BB gun shot at the window.
"He's telling me that he's phoning the police and just not getting any response. The way he describes the incident is that people in masks came in, they stole from him and they attacked him.
"He is clearly shaken by the experience.
Mr Preston happened to be visiting March as he campaigns to become the county's Police and Crime Commissioner - and popped into the Cambs Times office for an impromptu introduction.
While there, Editor John Elworthy told him about the crimes in Station Road, particularly yesterday's incident at the convenience store, that had just been reported to newsroom.
Mr Preston added: "My priority is absolutely to reduce crime and be the victims' champion - and that's why we've also come to March Police Station. I want to make sure victims of crime are getting the best response.
"We need to absolutely make sure people who run businesses - all people who run businesses - are looked after because this is much more than a shoplifting incident. This is serious, and they're stealing from a family and they're stealing from a community.
"When this is happening on a daily basis, there surely should be an investigation into this and as police and crime commissioner my priority will be to: reduce crime, reduce crime and reduce crime."
Cambridgeshire Police have been contacted for a comment.
- What is your experience of reporting crimes in March? Email email@example.com.