Cleveland Police has refuted claims that residents were told to report crime on Facebook.

The force hit back after ex Middlesbrough councillor and current Nunthorpe parish councillor Jon Rathmell claimed members of the public had been “actively encouraged” to report crime on a neighbourhood watch page on the social media channel.

He believes the South Middlesbrough Neighbourhood Policing Team covering Nunthorpe and Marton had “pushed this line of reporting” and he described it as “lazy policing”.

The Northern Echo: Nunthorpe Parish councillor Jon RathmellNunthorpe Parish councillor Jon Rathmell (Image: LDR)

However, a spokeswoman for the force refuted the allegation and said members of the public were always encouraged to report crime via the 101 number, or if in an emergency, 999, while Crimestoppers and the COPA mobile phone app launched by Police and Crime Commissioner Steve Turner were other accepted methods.

She also said residents in possession of CCTV footage should call 101 and not share such material on social media as it could be detrimental to ongoing investigations.

Andy Murphy-Brown, chairman of Marton West Community Council, neighbourhood watch coordinator and operator of the Facebook page in question – Nunthorpe and Marton Neighbourhood Watch Facebook page – echoed the police’s stance.

The Northern Echo: Cleveland Police vehiclesCleveland Police vehicles (Image: LDR)

He said the page was for residents to keep an eye out for each other and keep informed of any anti-social behaviour and crime matters. He said: “Nunthorpe and Marton Neighbourhood Watch and Marton West Community Council are happy to work with Cleveland Police in whatever way is appropriate for the benefit and safety of residents in our area.

“Our Neighbourhood Watch Facebook page is there for residents to share intelligence with each other and to improve engagement with our neighbourhood officers. We do, however, recommend that any crime is properly reported to Cleveland Police which can be done by dialling 999 in an emergency, 101 for non emergency or by using the Cleveland Police app, COPA, links which shortly will be included on our page.”

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The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands Mr Rathmell’s accusation stemmed from a recent meeting at Coulby Newham police station, to which councillors and community representatives were invited. He claims an officer said the local Facebook page could be used effectively as a “one stop shop” for residents to share information about crime and anti-social behaviour, rather than on multiple other Facebook pages set up in the area.

Mr Rathmell suggested it was a way of reducing actual reported crime figures as information posted on Facebook would not be logged by the force as it would be via officially recognised reporting methods. In response Cleveland Police said the force “does not accept crime reports via social media”.

Marton East independent councillors Jason McConnell and Dorothy Davison also said in a statement: “We believe that all crimes should be reported to police and not on Facebook.”