Town centre burglaries and shoplifting incidents are a bigger problem now than before police moved to the heart of the town, business owners have claimed.
Officers relocated their base from Spring Gardens into Broadway at the end of September last year.
However, Shahed Mahmood, president of Hyndburn Chamber of Trade, claims that the move has not helped curb crime or deter would-be offenders.
And figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that shoplifting has increased in the borough over the past two years, with eight of Hyndburn’s 10 worst affected stores in Accrington.
The Observer reported last month how at least six premises were targeted including a church, cafe, tanning salon, estate agent, hairdressers and charity base.
There have also been a spate of charity box thefts and shoplifting incidents in recent months.
Mr Mahmood, who owns Home Run takeaway on Blackburn Road which was targeted by burglars in January, said: “Since the police station has moved into the town centre burglaries, thefts and assaults have all gone up.
“Do people not realise there is a police station in the town centre?
"We need more visible policing and more patrolling, otherwise these burglars will think they can do what they want and get away with it.”
He added: “There’s been times I’ve seen six police cars round the back parked up and I’m thinking you should be out patrolling our town and streets as they are the only ones who can do something about it.
"When there are people breaking in and stealing charity boxes from businesses not even 100 yards from the police station that tells me policing is not effective.”
The Accrington Pals cafe in the Market Hall was targeted by charity box thieves last October and November.
Coun Eamonn Higgins, who runs the cafe with his partner Karen Moxham, said: “You would’ve thought with the police moving into town and all the vehicles on show that it would make them think, but it hasn’t had any effect.
“I think the majority who do it are drug addicts and they need to get money from any source to fund their next fix.
“In their mind that takes priority and they’re not really bothered if they get caught.”
Conservative councillor and businessman Tony Dobson added: “We are concerned, as we are with any uplift in burglaries and crime in the borough.
“It just seems strange that with the new police station in the centre of town that these events are still happening.”
Accrington police sergeant John Kennedy said the town centre was targeted by a ‘number of prolific shoplifters’ in the run-up to Christmas, who are now all behind bars.
He said officers have been working with partner agencies to prevent their re-offending and secured funding to provide shops with radios which transmit to officers ‘to ensure the speediest possible response’.
Sgt Kennedy said: “I am confident that the public are aware of our new location, and footfall into the public area of the building bears this out, as our enquiry counter staff have reported a definite increase in those visiting.
“The building is primarily a base for the local neighbourhood policing team and is utilised as a stop-off for response officers who cover Hyndburn round the clock, but have a permanent base in Blackburn.
“The vehicles parked outside will generally belong to the local policing team.
"We encourage our officers to walk or cycle round their respective beat areas as it is a more effective way of patrolling as it allows us to get into the heart of community issues.
“Having police vehicles at the station doesn’t mean officers are sat inside; in fact it is quite the opposite.”
Shoplifting on the increase
Shop owners fear Hyndburn is becoming a ‘soft touch’ to criminals as new figures reveal over 1,300 reported shoplifting incidents in the last three years.
The number has increased over the last two years from 410 to 454 incidents and is also nearly 20 per cent higher than the 382 incidents in 2009/10.
Shahed Mahmood, president of Hyndburn Chamber of Trade, said the shoplifting figures, released to the Observer under a Freedom of Information request were ‘very concerning’.
He said: “We need more visible policing in the town centre. It could be a PCSO walking around for a few hours so these people know there is someone nearby.
“When you see these figures you wonder why it’s going up as the new police station has opened in the town centre.
“It should be going down. Some of these shoplifters are new faces coming from out of town and thinking Accrington is easy to go and steal, which is very sad.”
Eight of the top ten hotspots are located in Accrington with one in Rishton and one in Great Harwood.
The Tesco Extra store in Accrington town centre has topped the league of the most sinned against with 120.
The Co-op in Rishton was second highest with 85, followed by Asda in Accrington on 84 incidents.
The figures show that 855 people have been dealt with by police in relation to the incidents.
Of those, 287 people were charged, 240 were summonsed, 24 were cautioned and 129 were given a community resolution.
Sgt John Kennedy, of Accrington Police, said shoplifting has become a ‘particularly prevalent offence in times of austerity’ and is not just confined to Hyndburn.
He said many of the targeted shops won’t know an offence has happened until they check CCTV cameras several hours later by which time the offender has gone.
He said: “CCTV systems in general have improved and offences are being picked up that would previously have gone unnoticed.
“Some of our stores have reduced their own security staff which possibly leads to potential offenders being a little more confident that they will get away undetected.
“This reduction in security can also lead to fewer thieves being detained in the store.”
The 10 places in Hyndburn which suffered the most shoplifting incidents from 2013/14 to 2015/16:
1. Tesco Extra, Accrington – 120 incidents
2. Co-Op, Rishton – 85
3. Asda, Accrington – 84
4. Marks and Spencer, Accrington – 52
5. B&M Bargains, Accrington – 46
6. Tesco, Great Harwood – 43
7. Wilkinsons, Accrington – 38
8. Home Bargains, Accrington – 37
9. Aldi, Accrington – 35
10. Spar, Accrington – 34