Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl is calling for tougher sentences for criminals who target the elderly during the coronavirus crisis.

In a letter to the Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland, Mr Surl has set out his plans to safeguard the most vulnerable during the pandemic.

Mr Surl, a former senior police officer who emphasises care for older people in his Gloucestershire Police and Crime Plan, is asking

his chief constable to prioritise investigations of any suspected cases of fraud against older people who are self-isolating.

He has also called-on the chief crown prosecutor for the South West to prioritise potential charging decisions

And he has informed the chair of the local magistrates’ bench that Gloucestershire police may now oppose bail in such cases whereas previously they may not have done.

“Whilst there have been many heart-warming examples of communities supporting each other, 40 years’ experience within policing and justice tells me that will not always be the case and that there will be a small minority in society who will see this crisis as an opportunity to scam, defraud, exploit or undermine those who are most vulnerable," said Mr Surl.

"The National Crime Agency (NCA) is already warning of cases of criminals posing as health officials to trick victims of the virus.

“In such cases where proven, I believe the public would expect and fully support a severe sentence, with the likelihood of a substantial period of custody, for anyone who commits fraud or deception against the elderly who are self-isolating. Or any crime that takes advantage of the current pandemic.

“I have every confidence in the independence of the judiciary and it is with great respect that I have written to the Secretary of State asking him to speak out and consider some revisions to the sentencing guidelines that reflect the current climate.

“The Theft Act and other legislation provides ample provision to deal with those who criminally seek to gain from this pandemic. However, it is essential that those who transgress must be in no doubt that, if found guilty, their crime will attract a sentence at the higher end of the provisions within the law.

“My experience also leads me to hope, and believe, that many within the criminal fraternity would deplore such crimes and support the view that crimes against the vulnerable are unacceptable.

“A strong message from the Secretary of State to those who would criminally seek to exploit the vulnerable would, in my opinion, be timely and welcomed by the public”.