Store owner: Protect our village shops

MORE needs to be done to protect vulnerable shops in rural communities following a spate of armed robberies, a shop owner insisted today.In recent months post offices and Co-op stores have been targeted in a small area around south-west Suffolk, leaving some shop owners worried about their safety.

MORE needs to be done to protect vulnerable shops in rural communities following a spate of armed robberies, a shop owner insisted today.

In recent months post offices and Co-op stores have been targeted in a small area around south-west Suffolk, leaving some shop owners worried about their safety.

Alec Gardner, who runs the post office in East Bergholt, was targeted by armed robbers last year and again on November 24 when thieves stole cash and cigarettes after using a sledgehammer to smash open the door.

Also in November there were raids in nearby Dedham, Brantham, and Ardleigh.

Mr Gardner said raids were inevitable in small village stores unless more was done to prevent them.

He added said: “It is not only me that has been targeted.

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“I know it has happened further a-field as well but our area seems particularly targeted, maybe because we are so close to the A12 and A14.

“We'd like to see more people being arrested, a much bigger police operation. We wonder why there wasn't a surveillance operation, more stake-outs.

“It is getting to be a big problem for us because we have to recruit staff but many people don't want to work for us for fear they'll be targeted late at night.

“I think they think we're easy targets. If it doesn't change someone is going to be seriously injured."

However Mr Gardner stressed that he would not be quitting his business.

"If anything it makes you more determined that you won't be beaten,” he added.

Suffolk police have arrested a 36-year-old man in connection with two armed robberies.

The man, from Ipswich, has been arrested in connection with armed robberies at the Co-op in Brantham on November 1 this year and December 8, 2005.

He was released on police bail to return to a Suffolk police station in March.

What can be done to make small shops more secure? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Operation Arctic

TO combat raids on small shops and post offices in the county this winter Suffolk police is running Operation Arctic.

The operation has been run in previous years across East Anglia to prevent and detect robberies at post offices and stores, and ATM thefts.

In October every post office in the county and around 100 small shops were given an advice pack about staying safe.

A spokeswoman for the police said the series of raids in the south-west Suffolk area last month had not changed the way police officers worked in the area because the force was already being proactive beforehand.

She added: “We are doing lots to prevent robberies in small stores. It really is a whole community thing with everyone trying to stop it happening by reporting anything suspicious.

“We know at this time of year it does get darker and some people to try to take advantage of that by targeting shops.

“We do target officers to particularly vulnerable areas where we know there could be a problem and we visit certain areas and carry out extra patrols.”

A cardless society?

MICHAEL Miller, Babergh district councillor for Dodnash, which includes East Bergholt, said drastic measures needed to be taken to stop post offices and shops being seen as easy targets.

He suggested that to dissuade robbers from targeting the stores the process of replacing cash with cards should be phased in.

He said: “Something needs to be done quickly, otherwise we shall start losing many more rural post offices because the shop owners will be unable to afford insurance.

“In the short term, we do need some extremely active policing to keep a close eye on these shops, and the villains they suspect of being involved.

“But perhaps in the slightly longer term we should move to a cashless county. If there was no cash in the shop there would be no reason for a raid.”

He pointed out that some mobile phone companies were already allowing customers to use their phones to pay for goods and that Oyster travel cards in London allowed passengers to avoid paying with cash.

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