Youth knife crime has gone up in London by 23% in the last four years – with more than five and a half thousand young victims in the last year and at the same time police numbers are being cut. Of course, four years ago a promise to get to grips with knife and serious youth crime was central to the election manifesto of Mayoral candidate, Boris Johnson. The record of his four years as Mayor, however, demonstrate the shallowness of that promise and his strategy over that period has been described as “directionless” and “a shambles” by one of the experts brought in to advise on it.
It is not surprising therefore that Richard Taylor, the father of Damilola stabbed to death in Peckham twelve years ago should be so disappointed, saying earlier today:
“Knife crime is still a huge issue for London. The problem is not going. It is still there. Something must be done. … As someone who has been through it this makes me so disappointed. More and more families are suffering as a result of the negligence of the authorities. There has been a failure to address the problem properly.”
He was hopeful that the plans announced by Ken Livingstone would help with the problem, saying:
“Ken has been able to see the weaknesses of the present Mayor so he should be able to capitalise and do something about this. … It has to be dealt with once and for all. It has to be handled with an iron fist.”
Ken Livingstone’s proposals include a plan for every one of London’s 432 state funded secondary schools to be assigned a dedicated police officer committed to tackling knife crime by providing better intelligence, increasing detection levels and building better relationships between young people and the police.
Ken Livingstone has also announced plans to back London Citizens’ ‘City Safe Havens’ scheme, which builds the power of local communities to tackle crime and the fear of crime. The scheme works with willing local businesses and other organisations that are open to the public to make them ‘safe havens’ offering their premises as a place of safety for people who are in immediate danger.
Labour’s candidate for Mayor has promised to work to ensure that all organisations that support City Safe Havens scheme will be given a service agreement from the Metropolitan Police that would include:
• A named officer assigned to the premises
• Regular visits from their Safer Neighbourhood Teams
• A panic button alarm service for emergencies
And his campaign have issued a fact sheet about Tory Mayor’s lies on knife crime.
Just over a month ago the Government yet again snubbed the Mayor of London over his proposals for a pilot sobriety scheme, whereby the courts could impose on offenders, whose offences were alcohol-related, a requirement that they be compulsorily tested for alcohol daily for a three months period with a positive test meaning arrest and appearance again in court.
But now – either because they have finally listened to the overwhelming force of arguments coming from all corners of the House of Lords or because they want to provide a helpful headline to the Mayor prior to the Mayoral elections in seven weeks time – the Government has performed an 180° u-turn. They have now tabled an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill that will enable the courts to impose sobriety orders as part of a suspended or community sentence.
Offenders would have to wear ankle tags that continuously monitor alcohol levels, for up to four months. The orders would allow alcohol levels to be monitored either by these tags which test sobriety every half hour, or by requiring offenders to attend a police station daily – or at other regular intervals – to be breathalysed.
Of course, the other advantage from the Government’s point of view is that it saves a lengthy debate on a Bill that is already taking much more time to progress through its various stages in the House than expected. And what is more it avoids the certainty of another defeat for the Government to add to the nine they have already had on the Bill so far in the Lords.
It is really a case of Healey’s Law: when in a hole, stop digging.
Along with peers from all parts of the House of Lords, I have been pursuing concerns about the loophole that the Government was creating in the Protection of Freedoms Bill that would have meant that those volunteering to work with children did not have to be subject to Criminal Records Bureau checks or checked against the lists of those barred from working with children provided their activities were subject to “day to day supervision”.
These issues were debated again in the House of Lords late yesterday afternoon. In the end, the issues boiled down to whether an organisation with volunteers working with children could have an “enhanced” Criminal Records Bureau check on such volunteers and whether that check would include information as to whether that individual had been barred from working with children.
The legislation as originally envisaged would not automatically have given organisations the right to have enhanced CRB checks on volunteers. In essence, the Government have now conceded that right.
They resisted, however, the suggestion that the check should reveal whether or not an individual had previously been barred from working with children – even those 20% of those barred do not have a criminal conviction that would show up on a CRB check.
In the end, the Minister offered a compromise: the “enhanced” check would not disclose whether an individual had been barred but the information that had led to a decision to bar an individual would be made available to the police and they would have discretion as to whether to pass it on as part of the enhanced checking process.
Essentially this ought then to mean that any relevant information could be obtained by an organisation about a volunteer, but it seems a very convoluted way round of doing it. It would surely be much simpler to say whether that individual had or had not been barred. It also places the onus and the discretion on the police to pass on the information – so any failure to do so will no doubt lead to criticism of the police service concerned.
An exchange in the House of Lords this afternoon demonstrated that following the election of Police and Crime Commissioners public police accountability is to be done on the cheap.
Baroness Ruth Henig asked how much money was to be made available for Police and Crime Panels (these are the new bodies set up under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act to hold Police and Crime Commissioners to account and which will in effect be the only public forum in which policing decisions can be questioned). The answer was £53,300 per panel.
When I pointed out that this would be insufficient to employ more than one or two people to support busy local councillors fulfil their scrutiny role, I was told that perhaps I didn’t understand how local authorities work. This produced loud guffaws – not recorded in Hansard – as colleagues around the House seemed to think that my twenty-six years of experience in elected local and regional government might be rather more extensive than that of the Minister.
The full exchanges were as follows:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much money they will make available to each police and crime panel to cover start-up and first-year running costs.
Dave Hill’s London Blog in The Guardian can usually be relied on for serious comment and analysis of London issues. And last week he posted two important posts on the issue of serious gang-related violence in London.
The first highlighted the post-code rivalries between gangs in North-West London:
“Page 81 of my London A-Z shows the streets, parks and stations at the intersections of north Westminster, north Kensington and Brent. But it offers no clues to the alternative cartography that shapes the lives of many people living there – an unofficial map of an urban landscape scarred by violence and divided by fear. …
Territories have been defined and the borders between them guarded and sometimes breached. Incursions resulting in chasings, beatings and robberies are frequent. …
Some who live in the area concerned, including some who are young, are barely touched by this wired, short-fused youthful world. They and it are largely invisible to each other: people move freely and routinely to and from work, local schools, community facilities and places of worship just like anywhere else. Yet an awareness of that other side of neighbourhood life has filtered down even to primary school children. And on the streets young people in particular, even if they have little or no direct connection with it, are acutely conscious of it: at worst, cowed, menaced and controlled. …
There was a general frustration that funding for anti-youth crime and violence projects is too often short-term and under threat, making the sustained action required far more difficult to implement. Outreach work, personal development and gang mediation schemes were all thought to have beneficial effects, so why couldn’t they be backed with more consistency and on a larger scale?”
One of the difficulties in combatting terrorism is maintaining public support and vigilance over time as the memories of atrocities on mainland Britain fade. The recent conviction of nine men who plotted to bomb the London Stock Exchange and build a terrorist training camp is a reminder that the threat has not gone away. However, the Metropolitan Police campaign, “It’s probably nothing, but…“, will help reinforce the message that public vigilance is going to be essential – particularly in the run-up to the Olympics.
As the Met says:
“Everyone who works, lives and visits London has a role to play in helping to counter the terrorist threat which remains real and serious.”
The four week campaign consists of a 40 second radio advert to be aired on Kiss FM, Capital, LBC and GOLD, and press advertisements in local publications and minority media titles. The activity will also be supported by a digital presence on Spotify, and in excess of 1.4 million leaflets being delivered to households across London.
The radio advert recognises that some people may be reluctant to report suspicious activity or behaviour, such as someone paying for a car in cash but not taking it for a test drive, because ‘Chances are, it’s probably nothing’.
But it goes on to encourage people to think ‘But what if it isn’t’?
Just one piece of information could be vital in helping disrupt terrorist planning and, in turn, save lives.
The press advert seeks to reassure Londoners that if they see or hear something that could be terrorist related, they should trust their instincts and call the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline.
I was rather disconcerted to come across a site on-line which makes the following promises:
“We offer only original high-quality fake passports, driver’s licenses, ID cards, stamps and other products for following countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, UK, USA and some others.”
It goes on to say:
“Our passports produced with high quality and have no difference from the original documents. We accept all security features like special paper, watermarks, security threads, intaglio printing, microprinting, fluorescent dyes, color-changing ink, document number laser perforation, latent image, laser image perforation while producing passports.
There is also a possibility to affix almost all kind of stamps into the passports. The price for this service should be discussed with our operator and may be variable.
Attention! There is a new option of document duplicates producing, i.e. cloning of the real existing document but with your photo. We select suitable document from our database considering on your age, sex, nationality, ect. This service is available for not all countries, pricing is not fixed too.”
Driving licenses are also available:
“All our driving licences are produced on high definition printers. They offer durability, exceptional print quality and an overall impression of quality and authenticity in our fake DL cards. We offer a range of features such as barcodes, magnetic stripes, smart chips and holographic overlays. We also offer holographic overlaminates, which lend added authenicity to the cards.”
The Frequently Asked Questions section is instructive:
“Can I use your document instead of real one?
Answer : Yes, you can do it. To reduce risks we recommend you to use document duplicates service, i.e. cloning of the real existing document but with your photo.
Are my order details kept private?
Answer : Of course, customer details are kept confidential and never shared. All our documents come in plain white envelopes with no mark saying what’s inside.
How long will shipping take?
Answer : Shipping takes from 2 to 5 days depending on country of destination. Some orders take up to a week.
Can you provide a tracking number for the package?
Answer : The orders that shipped by means of DHL (Worldwide Express), UPS Express and FedEX are provided with tracking number for the package.
Do any of our company details appear on the document or envelopes they are sent in?
Answer : All our document are sent in discrete packaging with no reference to our company on the packages contents or on the cards themselves.
Does the delivery name and address have to be the same as the name and address I want printed on my fake documents?
Answer : No. If you want your document to go to another address then just fill in the order form accordingly.
How much time will you need to send my document after the moment I paid?
Answer : It depends on the payment method you used . Wire transfer usually takes several days to arrive to our account. Webmoney, Western Union and MoneyGram methods are fast and we can check them at the same day.
Can I pay for my fake document using a credit card or Paypal?
Answer : Unfortunately due to the nature of our business it has been difficult obtaining these facilities. We expect to take credit cards sometime in future time. As a result we can not at this time accept cards and Paypal as a method of payment.
I want to order lots of fake documents, can I get a discount?
Answer : If you send us an email detailing how many documents you intend to order then we will contact you and arrange a discount on an individual basis.”
I trust by now the site has been closed down by the relevant authorities, but, if not, I will provide the link to suitably authenticated representatives of the Metropolitan Police or the Serious Organised Crime Agency ….
A Police Service with a sense of humour?
How would the Met shape up if their website was hacked?
The Mayor of London and his policing surrogate, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, are keen to introduce a pilot scheme in London whereby the courts could impose on offenders, whose offences were alcohol-related, a requirement that they be compulsorily tested for alcohol daily for a three months period with a positive test meaning arrest and appearance again in court.
Data in the US, where such schemes have been in place for eight years, show that reoffending rates after alcohol monitoring more than halved when compared with traditional sentences of fines or custody – with 99 per cent of tests being negative, and two-thirds of those on an alcohol monitoring scheme having perfect compliance throughout the whole period of the scheme.
This evening in the Lords, the distinguished cross-bench peer, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, proposed a series of amendments that would permit such a pilot, saying:
“My Lords, this set of amendments concerns an alcohol monitoring requirement and is modified from those tabled in Committee on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. The alcohol monitoring requirement requires an offender to abstain from alcohol and be regularly tested to ensure compliance as part of any community or custodial sentence. It would provide an additional option—a new tool—for the courts.
These amendments would not stop responsible social drinking. They aim to deal with irresponsible, anti-social alcohol abuse and its devastating consequences. When I tabled these amendments previously, the Government’s response was that they would pilot the idea in October, using existing legislation for low-level crimes. October has come and gone. Where is the pilot? Anyway, this is needed for middle and high-level crimes, not just low-level crimes.
I should explain why we need primary legislation to undertake a proper pilot. London wants to do a pilot and will fund that pilot. The proposal has wide support. London Councils, which represents all 32 London boroughs, has written to Ken Clarke supporting the scheme. The chair of London Councils is Mayor Jules Pipe, the Labour elected mayor of Hackney. The scheme’s project board has representatives from Her Majesty’s Courts Service, London Probation, Public Health and the Crown Prosecution Service involved in developing the pilot. Consultation has involved domestic violence victims, Refuge, Women’s Aid, domestic violence offenders, health leads and those with an interest in the night-time economy from transport to addiction support services.
Today, I spoke to Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who is “fully supportive” of the proposal. He commented that alcohol is a precursor to crime in about 80 per cent of crimes in London and that after six o’clock at night you can smell the problem in the police cells. Violence against the person offences account for 64 per cent of Metropolitan Police alcohol flagged offences and criminal damage accounts for some 11 per cent of alcohol flagged crime. We should remember that only about 10 per cent of offences get flagged as alcohol-related even though, in recent British Crime Surveys, victims believe offenders to be under the influence of alcohol in about half of all violent incidents. The commissioner wants this to be a mandatory scheme. Voluntary schemes do not work because you need to support those who most need it and who are unlikely to recognise that need without compulsion. He wants this measure to act as a driver for better health as youth binge drinking is now a common cause of end-stage alcohol-induced liver failure in those aged under 25. We have a major social and health problem.
The Metropolitan Police view this measure as an additional tool against drink-driving and domestic violence. The proposed alcohol monitoring requirement has the potential to reduce reoffending for alcohol-related crime, particularly drink-driving and domestic violence, and contribute to long-term behavioural change of offenders. …
Courts need a different sentence to tackle alcohol-related crime because what we have is just not working. Custody tears families apart and single large fines damage the children in the home more than the offender. Neither custody nor fines address behavioural change. London wants to pilot this scheme in relation to offences of violence against the person, drink-driving and domestic violence. It is recognised that developing a scheme in relation to domestic violence would require particular care to ensure that the safety of the victim, including any dependants, is an integral part of the scheme.
These amendments will enable the court to take enforcement action on alcohol-related violence and to monitor compliance, particularly regarding middle-level offences such as common assault, offences against the person, threatening behaviour and domestic violence. How would it work? Pre-court screening aims to identify alcoholics whose needs are so great that the scheme would not be suitable for them. Alcohol monitoring as part of a suspended sentence, a community sentence or post-release licence would be an alternative to custody when the magistrate is satisfied that the offender understands the demands, which are no alcohol and daily testing.
Evidence suggests that the period needs to be 12 weeks to achieve real behavioural change. The court would order the offender to pay for each test—usually £1, which is less than such offenders are paying for their drinks. Let us get this in proportion: £2 a day is less than the cost of one pint of beer in a pub or two pints from many supermarkets. The cost of the monitoring to the offender is very low compared with the amount that they are normally spending on their huge alcohol intake—even when that is irregular. Testing would be done by either a private company or voluntary third-sector agency using paid staff, not volunteers. It will not tie up police constable time.
For the pilot, test centres would use existing court and probation premises near transport hubs. The initial alcohol test would be taken with a standard breathalyser. If it is positive, a second test would be taken with evidential standard equipment and mouthpiece. Breaches, which might be through a positive breath test, non-attendance or non-payment, would be dealt with using standard processes, with a swift and modest sanction such as an extension of the monitoring period in the first instance. Non-payment will need a flexible approach, particularly for those on benefits, and will be specified in the protocol. I have gone through the draft protocol but I shall not delay the debate by going through its minutiae.
The amendments are compatible with our human rights law—in particular, Articles 5 and 8, and habeas corpus. Let me be explicit: there is no compulsion on an officer to arrest a person for non-compliance and no compulsion to detain on arrest. An officer may arrest a person only when it satisfies the test of reasonableness and proportionality in Article 5.1(b).
In London alone, almost 9,000 cases would be suitable for the scheme. Between half and a quarter of these are people who are employed. The scheme would allow them to present for testing on the way to and from work, without any risk to their job. For offenders with anger and aggression issues, counselling and family support have the greatest chance of success when the participants are sober.
Existing orders that relate to offences for low-level crimes and have been used in cases of alcohol abuse do not have a success story attached to them. The alcohol-monitoring requirement would be appropriate for medium to high-level offences that require appearance at a court for sentencing. Existing orders were discussed with the Home Office and Ministry of Justice officials, but were considered inappropriate by those who want to pilot this scheme in London because, for example, drink banning orders keep people out of an area but do not halt the abuse, and are non-enforceable. Conditional cautions need to be voluntary, involve an admission of guilt and are managed by the police. The police do not want to use conditional cautions because they do not have the manpower and do not feel that such cautions are appropriate. Anti-social behaviour orders are civil orders to tackle harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not in the same household, and therefore do nothing to tackle domestic violence. Community sentencing could require attendance but not testing by breathalyser. Penalty notices for disorder do not require an admission of guilt, and do not count as convictions. The current fine of £80 is suitable only for minor offences.
I am sure that the Minister will say in response that the Government plan a pilot under community sentencing, just as they did previously for low-level offences, by using tagging for secure continuous remote alcohol monitoring—SCRAM devices that detect alcohol in sweat. These devices are not yet type-approved by the Home Office. They are bulky, are fixed around the ankle, and make a buzzing sound every 30 minutes as they sample the sweat. The offender cannot travel without prior permission because they have to be near the base station to download data daily. The wearer has to connect the device to the mains to recharge and cannot bath, use household cleaning or personal hygiene products that contain any alcohol at all, because that would give a false positive reading—and the device is in place for three months. As for the collection of the £1 test cost, the principle of hypothecation locally is already in place for asset seizures. The police can already hypothecate when the money is there.
We have an epidemic of alcohol abuse in this country. We cannot carry on doing what we are doing. It just is not working. These amendments would allow a full pilot to take place in a small area. London wants to do that to discover how well it works or not, and to iron out any problems. These amendments are essential to allow that pilot to happen. I beg to move.”
The amendments were supported by speeches from all parts of the House: Liberal Democrats, Lord Avebury and Lord Carlile of Berriew; Conservatives, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington and Baroness Newlove (whose husband was kicked to death in an alcohol-fuelled murder); Labour, Baroness Dianne Hayter, Lord Willie Bach (from the front-bench) and myself; and Cross-bencher, Baroness Howe of Idlicote.
Unanimity had broken out, until the Government spokesperson, Baroness Northover (a Liberal Democrat, but no doubt a Conservative Minister would have said the same as they did when the same proposal was raised a few months ago) rose to respond.
She offered supportive phrases:
“we very much support the principle of the intention of the noble Baroness and other noble Lords who have contributed to this debate.”
Supporting “the principle of the intention” is a bit like those non-apology letters you get saying “we are sorry you found it necessary to complain”.
And promised two non-statutory pilots (which would be unlikely to reach the most serious offenders) – in due course = when the Government has published its alcohol strategy and gone throughout the approval process for the technology it wants to use.
And, of course, the Government wants
“to hear the views of the judiciary, professionals within the criminal justice system and the public on the proposals. We will therefore be consulting in parallel with the pilot schemes to ensure that we give full consideration to the purpose, effect and benefit of sobriety schemes as we develop work further.”
“I will not press my amendment tonight, but I look forward to further discussions, and I must warn the Government that if I do not get satisfactory answers I intend to bring this back on Report.”
On BBC London News today, I was asked about the terrorist threat, following the recent RUSI report. I think RUSI are right to highlight the concerns about so-called “lone wolf” terrorists, but I also thought it was worth putting in context that over the last decade a citizen’s chance of being killed in any one year on mainland Britain as a result of a terrorist atrocity is about ten million to one.
Let’s keep these things in proportion.