Shropshire Star

Toby Neal on politics: Fighting back against shoplifting epidemic

Hero of the week?

Police officers on Oxford Street, central London, earlier this week. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Check out the footage of a chap at a food and wine store in Oxford Street who stands by the door holding would-be robbers at bay. While they circle like a pack of hyenas, he is alone, armed only with what looks like a fire extinguisher.

In calling him a hero, I don't want to get him into trouble, as bravely standing up to crooks these days is considered unwise, perhaps foolhardy, and possibly even illegal. Whether this chap gets charged with anything – threatening behaviour, having a fire extinguisher as an offensive weapon, or something like that – we'll have to wait and see.

It was put about on social media to gather in Oxford Street and storm the shops to steal stuff, an extreme form of the shoplifting epidemic that is sweeping the country. As we have reported in the Star this week, some of the thieves are so brazen that they smile at staff as they go about their nicking. The staff are typically told not to intervene and to leave it instead to the store security people. Trouble is, there might not be any on site.

It means that if you are an honest shopper who actually pays for what you pick up at the shop, as you browse the aisles a certain proportion of those around you must be stealing. The old way used to be hiding it under clothing, but no doubt the advent of self checkouts and smart checkouts has led to new methods which I wouldn't share for obvious reasons even if I knew what they were.

Not everybody gives the crooks a free pass. A little while ago at a corner shop I know a youth pulled out a knife and threatened the shopkeeper. She got out a baseball bat from under the counter. He ran off empty handed.

Ordinary people who are fighting back against criminals don't appear in the honours lists. To be acclaimed a hero nowadays you have to be a sportsperson or a celebrity of some sort.

In some classes of serious crime police have adopted a form of words along the lines of "there is no danger to the wider public," which is code for saying it was one scrote doing something to another scrote.

It isn't true. If you happen to get in the way, or have the moral fibre to intervene to prevent wrongdoing, you will soon find there is a very real danger to the wider public.


Earlier this week I chanced upon an interview published in the Star in 1981 with a then 11-year-old Jacob Rees-Mogg who, if the electoral dice had fallen differently, might have become one of our local MPs. Although not aged 11, obviously.

For your amusement and entertainment, here are some snippets. The interviewer, Angus McGill, recounts that when he rang asking Jacob, or Jakie as he was known to the family, for a chat, he responded: "Are you prepared to pay?"

Angus offered £20. Young Jakie negotiated him up to £50.

At the time Moggy had shares in five companies and was studying some other promising shares, consulting his stockbroker and being in regular touch with his bankers.

"I get very good service from all my banks," he said.

He was not yet at Eton, being the youngest boy in Remove at Westminster Under School, whatever that means.

Apart from shares, cricket was a great interest, and his aim in time was to play for Somerset and England.

Politically you won't be surprised to know he was a great supporter of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and would fire all the "wets" in her cabinet with the exception of his godfather, Norman St John-Stevas (St John incidentally was pronounced "sinjun," one of those language quirks).

Angus McGill did ask the crunch question. Did 11-year-old Jacob intend to go into politics?

"Not enough money," was the reply.

"If I was a politician I would want to be Prime Minister and as Prime Minister you have to give your whole time to running the country. You could not run a company as well."

And that was his ambition, to run a company. The job he aimed to have was chairman of GEC.

He never was.