On a recent visit to Tesco Borehamwood I spotted a shiny yellow notice in the car park. Bearing the hallmarks of Hertfordshire Constabulary, it warns ‘We’re watching you!’ then adds ‘Theft from motor vehicles will not be tolerated’.

Curses! With this Indian summer hanging on I was thinking of taking the carriage and pair on my next shop, but if theft from non-motorised conveyances is ‘tolerated’ I would have only myself to blame for such loss.

On the broader front, tolerated is an interesting word in that it says much about the notice’s purpose. Given that most sneak thieves struggle to cope with words of more than one syllable, it is clearly intended as some form of reassurance to the more literate, law-abiding majority. In which case, its bright spark of an author could be up for two possible awards: Delusional Proclaimer of the Bleedin’ Obvious, or much more accurately, Liar of the Year (shared, obs).

Realistically, every crime can be regarded as ‘tolerated’ until the case has been solved and the perpetrator subjected to an appropriate legal penalty. So what does happen in reality after someone bashes or jemmies their way into your car and makes off with your precious laptop? (Deep breath here) You have the inalienable right to relay the crime number you have been issued with to your insurer, that’s what. Hardly a DW Griffith-scale interpretation of intolerance.

And supposing the offender is miraculously tracked down and hauled before the court, what happens then is most probably the very definition of the word tolerance, because on the grand spectrum of criminal offences, petty theft scarcely raises a ripple. The crooks walk away laughing, reinforced in their belief that the criminal justice system is little more than a sick joke.

To be scrupulously fair to the police, the notice does go on to warn of ‘police activity in this area’, which only the deepest-dyed cynic would take issue with – since the local police headquarters is just across the road.

Alan Stinton

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