Police chief speaks out on divisive sandwich theft tweet that was deleted - where do you stand?

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The post split opinion and was viewed more than 60,000 times before eventually being deleted.

A social media post by Merseyside Police that highlighted how they had apprehended someone for stealing a 'delicious warm chicken baguette' from Greggs has been criticised as making 'a spectacle of someone’s desperation' by a Liverpool poverty charity.

Earlier this week, the force’s city centre team took to social media to make what was seemingly intended to be a light-hearted post about the incident, including a picture of the sandwich and adding: "Theft of any nature will not be tolerated in our city." The post split opinion and was viewed more than 60,000 times before eventually being deleted.

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Writing to Emily Spurrell, Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter Mitchell, chief executive of the Big Help Project criticised the content saying it 'trivialised' the issue of poverty for 'social media humour'.

The Big Help Project, located in Kensington, seeks to help those battling poverty with support through food, housing and money advice. In his letter to Mrs Spurrell, the charity boss said the post had 'humorously' described the theft adding how he was compelled to 'bring attention to the insensitivity of such messaging'.

Mr Mitchell added: “Particularly a force whose own Chief Constable has stated her sadness 'to know that there are so many families in desperate need in Merseyside' with regard to food poverty across the city region.”

Emily Spurrell, Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner, responded to criticism of the tweet.Emily Spurrell, Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner, responded to criticism of the tweet.
Emily Spurrell, Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner, responded to criticism of the tweet. | LTV

The letter continued: “We work with the hope that the institutions designed to protect those people have as much concern for their wellbeing as we do. 

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"From the tweet published by Merseyside Police on November 20, this doesn’t seem to be the case. To make a spectacle of somebody’s desperation has the potential to contribute to a highly dismissive and critical public perception of those experiencing poverty. 

“It is something we are used to seeing in 19th century fiction as Jean Valjean’s desperate act of stealing a loaf of bread is at the core of Les Miserables.”

The now-deleted social media post by Merseyside Police said: “Theft of any nature will not be tolerated in our city. We have this morning arrested a male on suspicion of the theft of this delicious warm chicken baguette after a store made us aware that the suspect had just left without paying for it.”

Public response

A number of X (formerly Twitter) users also saw the post prior to its removal and shared their comments in the replies, with many criticising the police but others playing along.

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  • One user said: "Congratulations on cracking a huge crime network. Ever thought of asking why the need to steal food is there and maybe making a referral?"
  • Another shared similar sentiments, adding: "Vital work right here. And squeezing some promo for Greggs. After some freebies? Bloody hell."
  • However, a few users shared support of Merseyside Police, with one noting that criminal behaviour should 'be treated with the contempt it deserves'.
  • Another added: "Thank you for making our city safer one delicious warm chicken baguette at a time."
  • One user joked: "As it's chicken, they should have handed it over to Inter Pollo."
  • Another posted: "It's a gateway.. one baguette leads to a Red Bull, a Red Bull leads to a muffin a muffin leads to murder."

Police Commissioner's response

Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell said: “I’m aware of a post on a Merseyside Police X (formerly Twitter) account in relation to the theft of a food item. I have made enquiries with Merseyside Police and while the message was intended to raise awareness of the impact of shoplifting and retail crime, it is recognised that the cost-of-living crisis has had a huge impact on our communities and no one in our society should need to steal in order to eat.

“In light of these sensitivities, the post was deleted. While stealing can never be condoned, the theft of food is a sign an individual is in desperate need and it’s vital we do everything to support the most vulnerable and treat them with empathy.

“Merseyside Police are already engaged with the retail industry and also work with our community safety partners to try and ensure those in food poverty are directed to support services where appropriate.”