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Candidates for South Holland and Deepings seat discuss police numbers and illegal cigarette sales at Holbeach hustings





MP hopefuls were challenged on how they would tackle the problems of illegal cigarette and vapes shops along with shrinking police numbers during a hustings.

Holbeach Methodist Church was quite packed on Thursday as people turned up to quiz the candidates who are looking to represent South Holland and the Deepings seat from July 5.

Rhys Baker (Green Party), Sir John Hayes (Conservative) and Mark Le Sage (Independent) were the only three candidates present. Jack Braginton (Liberal Democract) and Paul Hilliar (Labour) both gave their apologies while Matthew Swainson (Reform Party) was represented by Craig Jackson, former aide to Sir John and Vote Leave Co-ordinator.

Sir John Hayes, Mark Le Sage, Rhys Baker, the Rev Luke Smith and Craig Jackson at the hustings
Sir John Hayes, Mark Le Sage, Rhys Baker, the Rev Luke Smith and Craig Jackson at the hustings

Sales of illegal cigarettes and vapes was raised by Holbeach resident Christine Smith.

A number of shops in Spalding and Holbeach have been shut down by magistrates for three months after cigarettes and vapes were discovered within raids by Lincolnshire Trading Standards and police.

In posing her question to the panel Christine that she wanted to be confident that premises were not dealing in illegal cigarettes and vapes.

Independent candidate Mark Le Sage in action at the hustings in Holbeach Methodist Church
Independent candidate Mark Le Sage in action at the hustings in Holbeach Methodist Church

She said: “I am very concerned about what is going to happen to the future shops in Holbeach town centre.”

Mr Le Sage said the local Independent councillors were working hard with planning departments to put a stop to some of these incidents.

“Other independent councillors are working in other towns looking at bringing in bylaws to stop windows being completely covered in stickers,” Mr Le Sage said.

“I would like to increase the length of the closure. Three months is not enough - it should be far longer.”

He also said that he was concerned about the rise of vaping in young people.

Sir John said he had worked with trading standards and police on this issue.

Rhys Baker (Green Party) speaks to the audience at Holbeach Methodist Church
Rhys Baker (Green Party) speaks to the audience at Holbeach Methodist Church

He said: “You have got to find the owner and to get to the source of the problem.

“This is not just about illegal cigarettes, some is about money laundering and linked to organised crime.

“We have got to make sure that the police are equipped.”

Craig Jackson, represented Reform UK candidate Matthew Swainson at the hustings in Holbeach
Craig Jackson, represented Reform UK candidate Matthew Swainson at the hustings in Holbeach

Green Party candidate Mr Baker said he was disappointed that the legislation proposed by the government relating to smoking had been halted.

He called for authorities to come together to stop the exploitation of a loop hole that allows these shops to pop up.

“I agree with the need to look at stickers in windows. These shops akin to casinos as you can’t see what is going on,” Mr Baker said.

“As a teacher who has safeguarding drilled in daily on every single week of the year this doesn’t feel safe for our young people.”

Mr Jackson said that the sales of these products end up in the ‘coffers of organised crime gangs.

He said that reform wants to abolish business rates for small and medium businesses.

Jason Henton shared how unsafe and extremely uncomfortable he had felt after dialling 999 and no officer could attend so the only option was to lock himself in. He asked candidates what they would do to improve the situation with the police.

Mr Baker said the number of police officers in Lincolnshire had fallen between 2010 and 2023 and that justice system which takes people through was needed.

He said: “Everybody has the right to feel safe whether at work, on the street or at your home.

“Justice delivered is justice done.

“The Green Party will listen.”

Mr Le Sage, a former prison officer, also highlighted cuts in police numbers and rises in anti-social behaviour after the numbers of PSCOs were slashed by Lincolnshire Police last year.

He told the audience that funding for his educational project, the Rightside Trust, which was aimed at helping youngsters avoid jail, was also cut.

Mr Le Sage, now a nurse, said: “Let's get the funding back to where it needs to be.

“Let's get our local bobbies back on the beat.”

Conservative Sir John said that crime has changed with criminals sat at computer screens rather than donning stockings to rob a bank.

He said that more police are needed back on the beat to provide reassurance and highlighted the logistical challenges posed by a county like Lincolnshire.

Sir John told the audience that a ‘fit for purpose’ police funding formula is what is needed and said the Government has formally committed to change that.

He said: “We have got to punish people who do harm to others.”

Mr Jackson said that Reform was committed to increasing policing numbers and that it wants to tackle the causes of crime.

He said the ‘family break-down’ plays a large part in crime and disorder and said the party would also increase funding to social services.

Mr Jackson also said that he had had to call 999 and that officers would turn up the next day and ‘don’t always turn up at all’.

Questions on abortion, Brexit, how the candidates could represent the views of women and members of the LGBTQ community were also posed.

They were also challenged on what they would do in their first 100 days, employment rights for people with disabilities and the role of the church.

Light hearted jokes but a few tense moments

It was a night of good humoured banter but there were also a few spicey moments as candidates debated during the hustings at Holbeach Methodist Church.

Shortly after the start of the meeting, calls were made to remove Reform Party representative, Craig Jackson, from the panel as he was not a candidate by Fleet councillor Paul Barnes.

Cries of ‘choice’ were made by women in the audience after a question was posed to the panel about abortion and there were no claps after Mr Jackson outlined the Reform Party’s plan to introduce a French style health care system.

But one of the more interesting moments was seen during a question posed by Charlie Rawlings about which recent previous Prime Minister had disappointed the panel. But chairman, the Rev Luke Smith, was forced to take the microphone off Conservative Party candidate, Sir John Hayes, after he stood over Coun Thomas Sneath during a debate about Tony Blair and Boris Johnson.

There were some light hearted moments with Green Party candidate Rhys Baker called on Sir John to think about ‘gingers’ on sunny days. The Tory also stated he was growing quite fond of the Green Party candidate



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