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Norfolk police commissioner links gambling with crime increase

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Norfolk police commissioner Giles Orpen-Smellie has declared gambling as one of the primary causes of increased crime in the region, alongside alcohol and illegal drugs.

He referred to the activity as “pernicious” and claimed the finances required to fund such vices were forcing desperate people to look outside the law.

“They all involve a need for money and people who need money who cannot earn enough will turn to finding it through other means,” Orpen-Smellie said.

“That might be through theft or through fraud, but they will find it.”

The commissioner also said that online gambling had allowed problem gamblers to place large bets without any immediate oversight.

“In days gone by, you’d have to go to the high street and place your bet across the counter, but now, with online gambling, you can go on to any one of numerous sites,” he stated.

“Yes, there will be a little logo on the side that says gamble responsibility, but you can spend the whole day betting.

“And if all your money is going on that, and you’ve sold everything that you’ve got, then you need more money because it is an addiction.”

Orpen-Smellie’s comments are in response to several high-profile court cases involving people trying to appease their gambling habit.

One of the many is Steve Girling, Costessey’s finance director, who received a four-year sentence. He was convicted of defrauding his employer out of over £1 million to keep up with his online gambling habit.

“I started off stealing £700, and then gradually that value started increasing every time; and I think the average I stole what we worked out, £25,000 was the average,” Girling stated.

Trevor Lee, a rugby official, faced the law in November 2022 when he was jailed for pocketing nearly £180,000. The court recorder, John Bate-Williams, stated that Lee had struggled with gambling for a long time and funded the addiction “by a prolonged period of terrible dishonesty”.

The Howard League for Penal Reform’s crime and gambling-related harms commission released a report last year which stated that there was little “understanding of gambling addiction” in the criminal justice system.

“Most participants said that they had amassed large amounts of debt through gambling before committing an offence,” the report read.

“Some reported that they had stolen from friends or family to fund their gambling addiction. The majority, however, had stolen from their employers, often in increasing amounts over time when they did not get caught.”

Although several gambling cases lead to fraud and theft, 45% of the time they result in acts of violence. Lewis Roles, who worked as a carer in King’s Lynn, stole over £16,000 over the course of three years from a man who was deaf and blind.

It has been discovered that police forces rarely ask most problem gamblers if they have an addiction to betting. However, Norfolk police’s head of custody, Chief Inspector Rob Wicks, explained that every problem gambler arrested is given the opportunity to talk to experts on the matter.

“We understand there can be a connection between gambling and crime alongside substance addiction, debt and mental health issues,” Wicks said.

“Every individual who comes into custody has the opportunity to speak to our non-police partners in the liaison and diversion team.

“The team are experts in helping to prevent re-offending and will work with people to signpost charities and services which can help divert them.”

Wicks also revealed that Norfolk police were currently developing gambling addiction videos as well as promoting the use of self-referral schemes.

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has pressured British betting companies to improve their methods to pinpoint problem gamblers. A government white paper slated for release this year will examine whether stricter regulations should be placed on gambling operators.

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