Is Westminster police chief’s pen mightier than the sword?

Officers write to burglary suspects in a bid to make them mend their ways

Suspected burglars in north Westminster have received hand-delivered letters from police – urging them to stop committing crime.

The unusual tactics saw officers deliver notes to 16 individuals this week warning them they are suspected of involvement in crime and they will be arrested if they continue.

The decision to resort to the notes comes after an increase in residential burglaries around St John’s Wood and Paddington since the start of the year.

The strategy is not a common one, says Chief Inspector Nigel Quantrell, although variants on the idea have previously been used in Cambridge, Essex and Edinburgh.

Chief Insp Quantrell, who is responsible for the letters, says they are used to put a quick stop to burglary when police have intelligence but insufficient evidence to prosecute those they suspect.

The letters warn suspects: “We are in possession of information suggesting you are actively involved in residential burglary.

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“In order to protect the innocent victims of this crime I have directed my staff to regularly engage with you and disrupt your criminal activity. You will be contacted by officers from Westminster police who will make themselves known to you.”

It adds: “We will not tolerate burglary within Westminster and will be intrusive around your business until you choose to cease your criminal activity.”

Chief Insp Quantrell told the Wood&Vale: “We are committed to reducing burglary in the borough and dealing with those individuals who are involved in this type of crime.

“We have identified a number of people we believe to be involved in burglary and a pool of officers is now tasked with disrupting their activity on a daily basis.

“I hope the issuing of these letters will be the first step in deterring them from committing crime.”

Officers are planning on following up the letters with daily contact with each suspect including search warrants, arrests and prosecutions in some cases.

The operation has drawn the support of north Westminster MP Karen Buck who said: “I think it’s a smart idea because it clearly acts as a warning against those people who the police don’t have sufficient evidence to prosecute.

“If it lets people know that they are being watched and it deters them then it all seems for the good. Members of the public may question that if the police know who these burglars are why can’t they prosecute them? But suspicion is not the same as proof.

“It’s entirely reasonable that the police can have a fair idea of who they are without having sufficient evidence.”

Jack Gordon, chairman of Hyde Park Safer Neighbourhoods Ward Panel, added: “I’m wondering whether a letter from the police is going to get burglars to change their ways.

“But the fact is that this is a different, slightly unusual but creative way of trying to stop crime at its root.

“While some people may smile and say it will not have an impact I think it should be given every opportunity to see whether it can deliver.

“I don’t think it should be dismissed out of hand. It is a highly innovative initiative.”