By Paul Bentley
Record numbers of pensioners are being criminalised for trivial offences by target-driven police.
Officers arrest 40 senior citizens every day in Britain on average, official figures show.
Their crimes range from failing to pay a fine for overfilling a wheelie bin to not wearing a seatbelt or chopping a neighbour’s hedge without permission.
Many are being punished for the first time after decades of abiding by the law.
Critics say these ‘easy collar’ arrests are part of a cynical drive to meet police performance targets.
Figures from forces around the UK reveal that a staggering 44,321 pensioners were arrested over the past three years.
Previous estimates of ‘grey crime’ have attributed 2,000 offences a year to the over-65s.
But since 2007, the number of elderly people being arrested has reached more than 12,000 a year. Last year a record 13,000 over-65s felt the long arm of the law.
The figures, obtained by the Daily Mail under the Freedom of Information Act, have astonished campaigners for the elderly.
The true number of over-65s being hauled before the courts could be far higher if prosecutions by local authorities are taken into account.
The punishment handed out to a greatgrandmother caught selling a goldfish to a teenager in a council sting operation caused outrage this week.
Pet shop owner Joan Higgins, 66, was electronically tagged, fined £1,000 and placed under curfew for flouting new animal welfare laws which ban the sale of pets to under-16s.
Police have been criticised for a series of incidents involving the elderly where officers have been accused of heavy-handed-ness. They include a Christian grandmother who was accused of a hate crime after writing to her council to complain about a gay pride march.
A 70-year-old in Cheshire, who had never been in trouble with the law, was arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour’s conifers too vigorously.
Yesterday veteran TV presenter Esther Rantzen said: ‘I don’t think we are talking about people taking up robbery at the age of retirement or gangster grannies.’
The 69-year-old former That’s Life presenter, who is standing for Parliament in the Luton South seat as an independent candidate, added:
‘As a result of ludicrous legislation brought in by the Government, jobsworths enshrined in law are picking on the elderly for minor infringements of unimportant laws to meet their targets.’
The figures obtained from 53 forces indicated around 90 per cent of arrests involved elderly men rather than women.
Motoring offences, including not wearing a seatbelt, make up half the cases dealt with by the courts. Refusing to accept a wheelie bin fine can also lead to court.
A spokesman for Saga said: ‘These figures are very concerning. It may be that police find it easier to feel the collar of a plucky pensioner.
‘There also seems to be a range of new offences brought in by the Government that don’t seem to be based on common sense. It’s a question of police trying to drum up arrest figures rather than catching the real deviants in society.’
Criminologist Dr David Green, director of the Civitas think tank, said: ‘The Government says it doesn’t have targets. But many police forces have their own targets and want to look good – so they are going for the easy collar not for the hard criminals.’
There are 4.8million over-65s living in England and Wales, making up 10.3 per cent of the total population.
Policing Minister David Hanson insisted the elderly are not being vilified to meet targets.