Marc Jones: ‘Sobriety’ tags on offenders who commit crimes while under the influence of alcohol can makes us safer

21 Sep

Marc Jones is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire

Alcohol fuelled crime has always been and remains a significant concern across the United Kingdom.

Creative thinking and a determination to find new solutions by Conservative Ministers and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) has provided a genuine opportunity for change which must be grasped.

This year the Government is rolling out a programme to allow courts to impose ‘sobriety’ tags on offenders who commit crimes while under the influence of alcohol. These tags are a true innovative game changer in supporting real behavioural change that can help make our communities safer than ever before.

From May this year, Magistrates’ and Crown Courts can require offenders to wear the tags by executing an Alcohol Abstinence Monitoring Requirement (AAMR) as part of a community or suspended sentence.

These tags perform around-the-clock monitoring of an offender’s sweat to determine whether alcohol has been consumed and if the presence of alcohol is detected in the system, probation services are alerted, and the individual is sent back to court.

No-one should be in any doubt that innovation is needed in the approach to this problem which is a blight on communities across the UK.

Crime fuelled by alcohol is estimated to cost £11 billion per year in England and Wales, with 40 per cent of all violent incidents are committed by those believed to be under the influence of alcohol rising even higher in a domestic setting.

In 2018, a staggering 8,700 people were killed or injured in crashes involving at least one drink driver on our roads. How many innocent lives were torn apart?

Excessive alcohol is not just an issue for the criminal justice system. Public Health England (PHE) estimated that in 2018/19 there were 358,000 estimated admissions where the main reason for admission to hospital was attributable to alcohol.

The overall social and economic cost of alcohol-related harm is calculated by PHE as £21.5bn per year and with the total budget for the NHS standing at £130bn next year the scale of the problem is obvious.

While we recognise solutions are required are sobriety tags a solution? Well, on their own they cannot provide a panacea, I can testify that they do work – and have made significant improvements to the lives and wellbeing of my constituents in Lincolnshire.

I was one of three PCCs to run the first tagging scheme outside London to trial the technology and the support system that works alongside it and the results have been astonishing.

A review of the project carried out for my office found that of the 226 individuals issued with an AAMR order a staggering 94 per cent successfully completed the order and 97.4% of all the days monitored were free of alcohol.

One offender claimed the wearing of a tag gave him three months sobriety in which his life has changed forever as it gave him the space he needed to seek help for his issues.

Much praise for this initiative should go to Kit Malthouse, the Minister of State for Crime and Policing.

During a lecture in Oxford University, Malthouse first heard of an experiment in South Dakota which was utilising such tags to tackle drink driving.

Malthouse, Deputy Mayor of London and de facto PCC at the time, quickly identified the ingenuity of such a system and a decade later we are now seeing his determination to bring this initiative forward pay dividends.

Now it is the turn of Police and Crime Commissioners to see this project through. Since 2012 PCC’s have a unique remit to protect and improve the communities they serve.

Unlike Chief Constables, a PCC has the responsibility to look beyond the operational necessities of fighting crime on a daily basis and to work with agencies and partners to explore and commission new ways to safeguard residents through crime prevention and rehabilitation in the long term.

This project offers that opportunity.

If I haven’t convinced you of the worth of this system then listen to the words of one offender who wore a sobriety tag during the pilot project in Lincolnshire:

“Since I had the tag removed I feel 100% in control of my drinking. I was worried to begin with that when I had the tag taken off I might go back to drinking again but the process gave me a better understanding of alcohol. I also didn’t want to go back to court.

“I no longer need a drink to manage my emotions which is down to the tag and my probation officer – I’m much happier with my life now and pleased that more people can benefit from my experience of wearing the tags.”

As Malthouse so eloquently says:

“This policy represents a revolution in our approach to alcohol crime, and part of the solution to a stubborn and ugly domestic abuse problem”.

“More importantly, it’s simple, corrective and it works.”

I could not agree more.

Iain Dale: Cameron changed the Conservatives, and in many ways he changed the country for good

18 Sep

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

On Monday, I announced on my Twitter feed that I would be interviewing David Cameron later in the week. The paperback of his memoirs, For the Record, was published yesterday, so the interview was timed to coincide with that.

Never for a moment did I think an announcement that I would be interviewing a former Prime Minister would be met with such abuse. “What’s the point?” “He was a failure, why would you interview a failure?” And there was plenty that was much worse.

It illustrates the debasing of public discourse when people can be quite so insulting about someone who served his country as Prime Minister for six years. And he got it with both barrels from both sides.

To the more extreme Remainers, he is a traitor to his country for allowing the referendum to take place, and to hard Brexiteers he’s, well, just a traitor. “Why would you interview someone who walked away, the day after the referendum?” they brayed in unison.

Well, I’ll tell you why. Cameron changed the Conservative Party. In many ways he changed the country for good. Yes, he had political and policy failings, but all Prime Ministers do.

He may well go down in history as the man who allowed Brexit to happen. We don’t know yet whether that will turn out well or not. He may go down in history as the Prime Minister who started the process by which Scotland parted company from the rest of the UK – although if it happens, there will have been many other factors at play.

I interviewed Cameron because he presided over this country at a time of unique economic and political turmoil. All Prime Ministers are fascinating to one degree or another, and if anyone thinks I’d turn down the opportunity of interviewing him, Gordon Brown, John Major – or Lord Palmerston – well, they live in a delusional world of their own making. If you missed the interview it’s on the Iain Dale Book Club podcast right now.

– – – – – – – – – –

This lunchtime, I’m in Appledore in North Devon speaking at their book festival. Also on the programme are Labour’s Rachel Reeves and Jeremy Vine.

Most literary festivals this autumn have been cancelled, but Appledore have taken a brave decision to go ahead – and reformat it as a ‘Drive-in’ event.

So I’ll be on stage. Being interviewed about my book by a local journalist, and the audience will be in their cars, watching a big screen and listening to my words of wisdom via their car radios. What could possibly go wrong…?

– – – – – – – – – –

The Government is planning to double the maximum prison sentence for people who launch physical attacks on emergency workers.

Great news, you’d think. But it’s only from one to two years. Given we have the most right-wing Home Secretary in our lifetimes, you’d have thought she might have been willing to go to five or even ten years – but it seems not.

I just do not understand the mentality of anyone who would deliberately attack a paramedic or a firefighter or an ambulance driver. Of course, some will no doubt have mental health issues, but most will not.

I’m not sure that when the red mists descends you worry about a one or two year prison sentence, but it might cross your mind that discretion may be the better part of valour, were the sentence ten years.

– – – – – – – – – –

Sasha Swire’s diaries look as if they are going to be unputdownable when they are published next Thursday. If you’ve missed the serialisation in The Times, she is the wife of the former Conservative MP, Hugo Swire. And she has written a potboiler of a book, which, if rumour is to be believed, threatens to despatch them into the realms of social pariahdom.

The diaries are so indiscreet that it’s difficult to see how some of the couple’s long-term friendships can survive some of the revelations. I’ve published and edited a fair few political diaries in my time, and it’s always a balancing act between keeping juicy bits in to attract readers and editing the more salacious bits to avoid upsetting too many people.

I published Michael Spicer’s diaries some years ago and, as the publishing process wore on, he proceeded to take every single juicy anecdote out, including the identity of a Liberal Democrat MP who nearly defected to the Conservatives. He wouldn’t even say he was a LibDem. It was John Burnett, by the way. Nope, me neither.

Andy Cook: New stop and search powers are backed by the public – whatever the fashionable commentariat says

14 Sep

Andy Cook is Chief Executive of the Centre for Social Justice.

This week is law and order week, with the Government re-booting its domestic narrative using a series of tough on crime messages. It would be easy to dismiss this as simply managing a party hungry to see the benefits of a sizeable Conservative majority. Getting tough on crime isn’t just red-meat to the party faithful; it’s fundamental to any ambition to re-build local economies. You can’t even begin to spread opportunity or prosperity if the streets around you are too dangerous to walk. It’s a social justice issue, every but as much as it is about public safety. We’ve seen an upward national trend of offenders being caught repeatedly carrying knives over the last ten years, and in our major cities, especially London, this is becoming the norm in neighbourhoods that have been left behind.

That’s why we should cheer the announcement of a new form of stop and search which targets those carrying knives or weapons intent on doing harm to others. What’s more, these new powers to intervene are backed by the public and, crucially, from all white and non-white voters. If you live on a street where you children stand a good chance of being stabbed by someone carrying a knife, you’re going to support measures to put an end to the violence on your door-step. Don’t listen to the fashionable ‘commentariat’; this is a bold and popular move, even in London the polling is clear-cut with fewer than one in 10 Londoners actively opposing ‘stop and search’ powers. We found just 15 per cent of non-white Londoners and eight per cent of white Londoners opposed a new form of ‘suspicionless’ stop and search for limited periods in areas they believe will experience serious violence.

These Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs), which were a manifesto commitment, were first proposed by the Centre for Social Justice in our 2018 report, It Can Be Stopped.

SVROs are designed to ensure repeat offenders are more likely to be caught and put in prison. SVROs send a strong message that violence and carrying weapons can and will be stopped. SVROs apply to individuals previously convicted of carrying a knife or an offensive weapon, including those who have received non-custodial sentences such as community orders or suspended sentences. The orders would be imposed by a court, which could also decide on the exact length of the order. Police are then given the powers they need to stop and search those who are subject to an SVRO to check if they are unlawfully carrying a knife or offensive weapon again.

It takes us a step close to addressing the fundamental issue that came from the huge collapse in stop and search: a significant minority of people who feel they can carry weapons without reasonable fear of detection. This measure backs the police to take action at a time when they need a government on their side to make our streets safer. It would require those most likely to possess a weapon after being sentenced, on contact with police, to prove to them they aren’t carrying one or be subjected to a search.

When we looked into this issue we found too many police officers, especially newer recruits, reluctant to use the powers given to them. After the largest and most sustained collapse in stop and search since records began, the effect of such a targeted intervention on gangsters used to carrying and using weapons is an important message to officers patrolling our streets that we understand they need to hear support for stepping in.

The Government’s commitment to rolling out SVROs is one of the many tools we need to land a knock-out blow required to change things on our increasingly violent streets. There’s £70million announced to develop Violence Reduction Units to divert people away from crime and changing the law to make it a legal requirement for public bodies to work together to address the root causes of serious violence. It’s not enough, we’ll be calling for bigger investment in years to come but it is the right move.

The Government trumpeted its intent to recruit an extra 20,000 bobbies on the beat, a bold vote winning move. But at the time we said it wasn’t enough if it didn’t come with the power and confidence to step in and do the job they were recruited for. Our research tells us that these measures are supported by the great majority of people living in some of our most deprived communities, who want to see the scourge of knife crime and the routine carrying of weapons brought to an end. The Home Secretary should feel emboldened to carry on and do just that.

Jay Singh-Sohal: I’m promising our West Midlands communities a robust response to crime

4 Sep

Capt. Jay Singh-Sohal works in Strategic Communications for M&C Saatchi and serves as a captain in the Army Reserve. He is the Conservative candidate for West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner.

It’s now been over a year since I was selected as the Conservative candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner role in the West Midlands. While the national emergency with Covid 19 has delayed last May’s elections to 2021, I feel as motivated as ever to deliver the change we need in my home region.

That’s because the West Midlands is crying out for a new approach and leadership when it comes to local policing. Labour has been in the role for the entire eight years that it has existed, and over this period we have seen a rise in the local precept as well as a rise in crime.

Ahead of lockdown, crime was already increasing with knife crime and violence of particular concern. Meanwhile, suspects in the West Midlands are far less likely to be charged or issued with a summons than they were five years ago, with fewer than one in 14 crimes reported to police resulting in a court appearance.

Currently, the West Midlands is yet to see the benefit of the extra police officers the government has funded.  We had 366 allocated for the first year, but in the nine months to June 2020 only 27 have been recruited in the region.  Why? Meanwhile, the threat to police stations continues with zero clarity on what will happen to those earmarked for closure this year in Aldridge, Sutton Coldfield, Solihull, Tipton, and Wednesfield. All Conservative areas. What a coincidence!

Priti Patel, our Home Secretary, has delivered the bold and robust measures needed to tackle crime and accompanied this with extra funding.  The West Midlands has certainly benefited with an increase of nearly £50m taking the total funding for 2020/21 to just over £620m. It’s a vast amount of resources with which to set local priorities and targets that tackle rising violence, knife crime, county-lines drugs, theft, and burglary.

What it now needs is a Conservative to target these resources effectively. The fundamental truth in the West Midlands is that the approach to setting the police budget to tackle crime has to change. The current Labour incumbent is obsessed with using the powerful role to play party politics, constantly lamenting “austerity” cuts, shirking responsibility and favouring particular communities over others.  He’s even placed himself as an unofficial opposition to our successful Mayor Andy Street and got involved in issues outside of his brief.

What we need is more policing and less politics. A fresh approach built around my key policy pledges of stopping police station closures and increasing frontline policing meant we were winning the argument in the West Midlands, and still can.  And so as I reflect upon what has changed since a year ago, the ground appears to be fairly similar to where we were in 2019. Although the journey has been anything but ordinary.

When I first considered the PCC role, I, like many other approved Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, was awaiting a general election. What convinced me to commit to the police and crime role was the opportunity to deliver a better public service for our six million residents living across twenty-eight Parliamentary constituencies in seven metropolitan boroughs.

Knocking on doors and speaking to residents I have found them ever-ready to give me a chance with their vote, because as a Conservative I put taxpayers money and duty above partisanship. It also helps that the incumbent is retiring and Labour have selected a Momentum candidate to replace him, a man who joined a Black Lives Matter rally in Birmingham during lockdown – to bend the knee alongside those who seek to defund the police.

I stand as one of a new generation of pragmatists looking to make positive change happen. I’m half the age of the current Labour PCC and representative of a third of my region that is Black And Minority Ethnic, so I bring new ideas as well as a deeper understanding of issues affecting diverse communities regionally as well as nationally.

I also  draw upon more than a decade in the Armed Forces as an active Army Reservist, I see the PCC role as a continuation of my duty to serve in this way – providing the leadership, new thinking, energy and innovation that we now require to tackle crime.

Indeed, when this year’s elections were cancelled back in March, I did not hesitate in voluntarily mobilising with the Army on Operation Rescript, the military response to the pandemic. Seeing the impact Coronavirus was having from the privileged position of my special role brought home the severity of the situation as well as the knock on effect it would have on law and order. On many occasions, I saw the challenge presented to the government as well as local Commissioners. In some instances, I lamented that some PCCs were not being more effective by stepping forward, being more visible in their communities and helping guide their forces to deal with rule-breakers.

It’s become cliched to say everything’s changed because of Covid 19.  But returning to the “civilian” fold in July and with lockdown easing, I certainly felt it.  There are heightened tensions in diverse communities over the policing of lockdown as well as tensions over alleged racial profiling.  But I’ve also seen a great amount of togetherness in so many communities like mine – both the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield and the Indian community.  I take pride that many have rallied, helping and serving others during this ordeal.

But I fear for what time spent in lockdown has meant for people’s mental health in particular, both in terms of their wellbeing and potential knock-on effect into crime. It is a hidden danger which we might not realise straight away, yet not a day goes by when I am not concerned about the manner in which the continuing rising crime levels in the West Midlands are manifesting.

Recently, the cross-party Youth Violence Commission reported that there could be a knife crime spike as children who’ve witnessed domestic violence are released from lockdown. While we are seeing lawlessness post-lockdown, with almost a weekly occurrence of shootings in the West Midlands, police officers attacked and the elderly and vulnerable burgled in more horrendous ways. Illegal raves are on the up, which Nicola Richards, the MP for West Bromwich East, and I recently highlighted on social media. West Midlands Police responded by breaking up 125 parties last weekend including one in Birmingham attended by 600 people breaking social distancing rules.

While all this goes on, there is once more a clear lack of leadership from my region’s Labour Police and Crime Commissioner, who offers neither a response nor a strategy nor plan for how to tackle these issues. He is missing from the scene, anonymous to the diverse communities affected by his failed policies who need engagement and reassurance that they and their families will be kept safe.

There is no doubt in my mind from the evidence I’ve seen that we need an increased police presence in our communities and a robust response to crimes ranging from violence to anti-social behaviour.  So as I mark a year as PCC candidate, I have reaffirmed my commitment once more to keeping police stations in Aldridge, Solihull, Sutton Coldfield, Tipton, and Wednesfield if elected. All face closure by Labour, but I would work with local and community groups to get more out of them while increasing trust and engagement with the police within.

It’s far too easy for Labour to blame the government, and sit back and watch the repercussions of rising crime unfold. This is not leadership. It is a dereliction of duty. So for me, the May 2021 PCC elections cannot come soon enough; the West Midlands is crying out for change.

Paul Mercer: Police crime statistics need to be more intelligible and transparent

1 Sep

Cllr Paul Mercer is a councillor on Charnwood Borough Council and is the Lead Member for Housing in the Cabinet. He is writing in a personal capacity.

One of the more obvious ways of assessing police effectiveness is to look at crime statistics. Although, as the police are quick to point out, they do not necessarily reflect the amount of crime; only the willingness of the public to report crime.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Very few murders go unreported, and because insurance companies require a crime number, householders will also report burglaries. As a councillor representing a ward in the centre of a town, crime is one of the key issues for many residents. Over the years, we have found the easily-accessible data on the website a useful tool. It could be used both to put pressure on the police to deal with certain types of crime and also report on the success that they have had.

Until 2017, contained data going back to 2010 but the first five years were then deleted. Nicky Morgan, our MP at the time, raised the matter with the Home Office and, after a long delay, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, explained that the Data Police Application Program Interface (API) had been modified so it only presented data from the previous 36 months. “The decision to retain data for no longer than three years after receiving it from police forces was made in consultation with the Information Commissioner’s Office”, she explained, “and forms part of the Data Processing Agreement between the Home Office and their suppliers”. She further noted that “data should only be retained for as long as it is necessary and it was felt that three years was sufficient time to allow the complex and lengthy police investigations to result in final court proceedings so the outcome to the crime can be recorded accurately”.

The crime reports accessible on only indicate an approximate location and contain neither personal data nor identifying information. As such, there is no obvious reason why the ICO was involved given that its role is to protect personal data. On this basis, the ICO could credibly argue that electoral data should be limited after 36 months and nobody would know who had ever been elected. What was also not explained was why it was necessary to go to great lengths to record the data accurately and compile it, only to erase it after such a short period.

The Home Secretary helpfully added that although it had been decided to “retain data for no longer than three years” it was still possible to obtain this data via the archive which contains historic data back to 2010. This completely negated her point about not retaining data although, unhelpfully, there appears to be no reference to this archive on the ‘explore crimes’ section of the website.

In order to keep our residents aware of the crimes that were taking place in our ward in Loughborough, we would access, define its boundaries, and then take a note of the crimes which had occurred. However, when we last attempted to do this, we were informed that the service had been suspended in order to “prioritise providing access to key policing services to support the response to covid-19”. It would apparently be restored at some indeterminate time in the future. It is difficult to see how maintaining an API is taking manpower away from frontline policing.

The site does not state very clearly who owns and operates the site. The actual domain name is registered to Vodafone and it is only when you dig into the terms and conditions that it states that the ‘brand and the content’ is ‘owned’ by MOPAC. There is no link to this mysterious organisation which turns out to be the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime – part of the Greater London Authority.

In analysing the crime statistics over the past decade it was also apparent that, midway, the police decided to change the criteria by which they recorded statistics meaning that many of the older statistics were no longer relevant and it was difficult to make a proper comparison over a period of time. Although there were doubtless ‘operational’ reasons for this change it conveniently makes it difficult to make an objective comparison of how efficient or inefficient police forces are over a period of time. In terms of statistical significance many years of crime data are required in order to differentiate long term trends from short term factors.

The website proudly announces on its homepage that it exists to enable the public to “explore the latest crime statistics, find the force responsible in any area, read about how they are performing and what’s being done to tackle crime”. The website does contain a lot of useful information about the police and how they operate but it is failing to provide accurate crime data to enable the public and politicians to make objective long-term comparisons.

Rather than allowing access to this data to be controlled by the Mayor of London it would make far more sense for the Home Office to host a site which contained accurate data for the whole of the UK which could be easily accessed for the whole of the 10 years for which it is available. That way, it would be possible to make a formal objective comparison about how police forces are performing.

Matthew Barber: The police must tackle non-violent crime too

27 Aug

Matthew Barber is the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley. He is currently the Deputy PCC for that area.

In a world of competing demands we must have some way of prioritising. This is true in our own lives, our personal finances, and in public policy. We expect our doctors to prioritise those most in need of care, and so similarly we all expect the police to prioritise as well. In recent years, senior police officers across the country have developed an approach to prioritisation that looks at harm as the driver of decision making. The challenge is to balance competing harms.

Police forces up and down the country have adopted various acronyms for their methods of prioritisation such as THOR (Threat Hear Opportunity Risk) or THRIVE (Threat Harm Risk Investigation Vulnerability Engagement). Fundamental to all of these decision making-models is harm – and with good reason.

We all expect the police to protect us and our families from harm. Some would say it is what the emergency services exist for. It is easy to look at the extremes of harm in society, such as serious violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. We would all agree that these are areas that the police should prioritise for prevention and response. So far so good.

Thankfully, however, a majority of people will not become victims of these “high harm” offences. When presented with a list of possible offences, I would expect most of us would identify these most serious of crimes as the highest priority. However, in the abstract, the concerns regularly raised by residents are much more likely to relate to anti-social behaviour, speeding, or theft. These are the issues that are most likely to affect our communities and there remains a need to address these real life concerns.

In the complex system of policing, it must be possible to address multiple priorities at the same time. There is no simple trade off: a sexual assault may trump speeding, but both matter, albeit in different ways. This is critical not just because the offences themselves should be dealt with, but more fundamentally because we need to maintain confidence in the police.

Many of the high harm priorities that Forces will rightly put significant resources into tackling will take place behind closed doors, or at least away from the public gaze. If you have been a victim of what the police will often tellingly refer to as a “volume crime”, it could still have a huge impact on your life. This is where the supremacy of the harm assessment can be problematic. In many cases the crimes that many people will sadly experience cause very little harm. It will often involve the loss or damage of property. No-one has been physically hurt by the events, and so the harm is considered very low.

The logic of this approach is entirely reasonable, however it often ignores the non-physical impacts. If the bicycle that has been stolen is someone’s only means of getting to work, or the theft of tools from a van also stole someone’s livelihood, or repeated criminal damage causes someone to live in fear in their own home, then there is significant harm that is not always taken into account because it may not always be obvious.

Beyond the individual cases, the biggest loser in this game of chasing harm may be confidence in the police itself. In a system that still prides itself of policing by consent, confidence is everything. The police want, in fact need, the public to report incidents and intelligence in order to do their jobs. Yet, if the public have little or no confidence that their time spent reporting a crime will be worthwhile then they will simply stop doing so.

The problems with the 101 non-emergency telephone service are a good example of this. Much of the country has suffered with poor performance for some time and Thames Valley has been no exception. Things have improved and continue to do so (the latest stats show an average wait of just one minute 36 seconds). However problems still exist in reporting “volume crimes”, and too many people who have not even used 101 themselves know all too well the stories of being kept on hold for 20 minutes. So why bother?

The answer is not simply a populist approach. I am not advocating for the abandonment of victims of abuse and serious violence, who are numerically thankfully lower, in favour of the larger group who may have experienced lower level crimes. However in speaking up for the public, Police & Crime Commissioners have a role to hold Chief Constables to account for how they are serving the whole population.

There is another part of the THOR (Threat Harm Opportunity Risk) model which is often overlooked, and that is opportunity. Dealing with crime is increasingly complex and there are sophisticated organised criminals seeking to exploit our weaknesses. Whether it is cyber criminals working online to defraud people of their savings, or gangs working in rural areas to steal machinery and traffic it out of the country, there is often little physical harm. In some circumstances there may even be threats of violence, and certainly menace, but once again, if no-one is actually hurt, then it does not always attract the attention it deserves.

There is a fantastic opportunity to tackle these gangs that can often generate a disproportionate amount of “volume crime”. Some of this work has already begun and certainly in Thames Valley, the Force have taken advantage of the period of lockdown to advance work against some of these groups of organised criminals who cause so much pain to local communities, but do not always score so highly in the normal harm rankings.

There is much more to do, but it is vital that we seize this opportunity for renewal, accompanied by the increase in officer numbers. There will undoubtedly be difficult financial times ahead as a result of COVID-19, but now is the time to reinvigorate local policing and ensure that as well as continuing to deal with the high harm crimes that undoubtedly deserve the utmost attention, the police demonstrate that they can address the concerns of residents that may not directly cause physical harm, but can undoubtedly bring about misery for communities.

Damian Grimes: Out of office but in power. How the Left keeps losing elections, yet gets its way nonetheless.

26 Aug

I appeared on the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live last weekend. To put it bluntly, I was surprised to get the bid from the producer (who was a delight to work with) to speak about education. I know the BBC is set to spend £100 million on boosting its diversity and inclusion, but I felt that diversity would stop short at cultural conservatives from working class backgrounds who don’t have degrees.

The appearance itself was over in about ten minutes. I felt it went pretty well. I argued that we have a relentless focus on the 50 per cent of kids that finish their 16-18 education taking A-levels, at the expense of the other half that do not – who tend to be our country’s least well off.

And that it’s wrong to attack the seven per cent of kids that go to private schools, instead of discussing why it’s no longer the case – as it was for an astounding 33 years, from Harold Wilson to John Major – that our Prime Ministers are educated at state schools.

Yet later – as I was sitting down preparing to stuff my face silly with Yorkshire puddings – I had a text from a mate informing me that I was trending on Twitter, and that the mob was outraged.

“What the hell have I done now?” I pondered aloud, as I read tweets going viral with their own alarming R rate, including offerings from an Oxford professor and those with EU flags in their Twitter biographies.

I grasped that my crime was to be “uneducated” – an ignorant oik with ideas above his station. How dare someone who once worked as an apprentice hairdresser offer his views on the BBC? And more importantly to them, how dare the BBC offer up the opinions of Someone Who Isn’t Like Us?

Ben Norton sagely pointed out on Twitter that the same Oxford professor who places such a high bar for TV slots, with general snobbery for the likes of me, applies a different standard when it comes to the terrier-sized teenager Greta Thunberg, who lectures us all on the science of climate change without any of the qualifications you would generally associate with such a platform.

The incident got me thinking about why the Left keeps losing.  It focuses too much on issues that appeal massively to city-dwelling Twitter, so reinforcing its own biases. It convinces itself that the endorsements of actors and pop stars will see them through to victory. They believes that there’s a majority which cringes Rule Britannia, and dislikes rituals of national celebration, or having pride in place and nation. And it seems to think that the only issue which matters right now is self-ID reforms for trans men and women.

Does any of this matter? You might wonder why I’ve chewed your ear off for 500 words on how much of a left-wing cesspit Twitter is: why the hell I even bother myself with it? As Jonathan Swift once said, it is “the folly of too many to mistake the echo of a London coffee-house for the voice of the kingdom.”

The same can be said about Twitter. But the problem arising from it is that those on the platform are disproportionately in the media – policy-makers and commentators who are in a position to shape public policy and shape the national debate to their liking. Their views, mirroring Twitters, are reflected in our institutions.

For a Conservative Government serious about levelling-up, focusing on those that don’t do A-levels upon leaving school and ignoring the blather about private schools should be a priority. For a Conservative Government serious about challenging the Marxist march through our institutions, getting conservatives into positions of power should be a priority. And for a Conservative Government serious about winning again, sorting out the immigration crisis in the English Channel should be a priority.

The consequences of ignoring all this, and comforting yourself with the knowledge that the loony Left keeps losing elections, is this: each time a politician bends the knee, the BBC indulges itself by removing anthems, a museum removes a bust to rewrite history, and rioting is ignored by the police, we move one stop closer to allowing a tyrannical Twitter-dwelling minority to become very powerful indeed.

In responding to the news that only orchestral versions of Land of Hope and Glory and Rule, Britannia! will be played at this year’s Last Night of the Proms, Boris Johnson said: “I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture, and we stopped this general fight of self-recrimination and wetness.”  Wise words, Prime Minister, wise words – but what are you going to do about it?

It might not be fashionable for people like me to express my views about our national broadcaster on Twitter, but for a Government with an 80-seat majority to also be rendered unable to focus on and fix these pressing issues is a sign that, yes, whilst the Left does indeed keep losing, it’s not really all that far from the levers of power.

Tony Smith: Expanding the UK refugee resettlement scheme is one way we can improve our border security

12 Aug

Tony Smith is a former Head of the UK Border Force and Director of Ports and Borders in both the UK and Canada. He is now Managing Director of Fortinus Global Ltd, an international border security company, and Chairman on the International Border Management and Technologies Association.

On July 3 I wrote in these pages that in order to turn the tide on migrant boats entering UK waters illegally we would need a new agreement with France, which would enable us to return the migrants safely and securely immediately whence they came.

This week immigration minister Chris Philp is seeking precisely that with his French counterpart. Meanwhile numbers have continued to rise with over 4,000 now having made the journey this year, and new intake records being broken almost every week.

As a former practitioner with over 45 years’ experience in the immigration and borders business I have been inundated with requests for media interviews. Why do they come? How do they come? How can we stop them? Why don’t we let them in? Why don’t we let more in?

In my time in the Immigration Service (and the UK Border Force, which it later became) I was criticised from both ends of the political spectrum for working in the field of immigration and border control.

Many a taxi driver said to me (hopefully in jest) that it was “all my fault” that we were overwhelmed by immigrants. Others (less so in jest) saw me as having some kind of character flaw for being so nasty to innocent people, by denying them entry or by making it hard for them to enter and stay illegally in the UK.

In my many media appearances on this topic over the past few weeks I have appeared with several commentators from across the political spectrum – some wanting complete border closures: others wanting the complete abolition of borders.

I was Director of Ports of Entry in the Blair years. In 2002 we saw a record intake of over 80,000 asylum seekers. The vast majority were coming across the English Channel on ferries, trains, or concealed in vehicles. Since then we have concluded several bilateral agreements with France to enhance immigration controls on those routes. This was a top priority for that government, just as it is for this one.

By 2005 we had reduced asylum intake to 25,000. It went lower still before creeping up again in recent years, to around 35,000 last year. Even then the Home Office never really recovered from the 2002 crisis. The Department was criticised year on year for “failing to get a grip” of the asylum backlog, despite a three-fold increase in resources and a massive spend on asylum accommodation and infrastructure across the country.

Asylum applications are notoriously difficult to assess; the easy option is to grant asylum (or at least exceptional leave to remain). Even when refused, the route to removal is a tortuous one riddled with endless appeals, judicial interventions and – even then – non-compliance with the documentation and reporting processes.

According to UNHCR there are now 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world at the end of 2019. 26 million are outside their country of origin in places like Turkey (1.6m) Pakistan (1.5m) Lebanon (1.15m). Hundreds of thousands are in other countries close to unstable states, such as Iran and Ethiopia.

Meanwhile despite pleas from UNHCR, the Western World has consistently reduced its contribution to refugee resettlement schemes. In 2019 countries previously renowned for a more generous approach to refugee resettlement reduced the numbers to a trickle – 21,000 in the USA, 9,000 in Canada, 3,000 in Australia. In the EU the UK took 5,774 refugees through resettlement routes – more than any other EU country.

Yet we hear of far more “generous” approaches to asylum in other countries. The fact is the number of asylum applications in mainland EU countries far exceeds their political will to accept refugees. They have no choice, because the external EU border is porous and a great many irregular migrants have managed to penetrate it. Once there, many want to choose which EU country they would like to live in. Encouraged by the borderless Schengen zone, many will drift North and lodge asylum applications in those countries they see as more attractive (eg Germany, Scandinavia, France).

Because the UK is not (and never was) in the Schengen zone the final hurdle is the English Channel, and how to penetrate that. Given enforcement measures by successive governments of all colours they have found it evermore difficult to do so – at least until they discovered this latest loophole of getting out onto the waters and getting “rescued” by a British vessel.

I have heard many commentators argue that it is lawful for asylum seekers to cross borders without papers or permission, to make their claims. In fact, the correct terminology is “irregular” rather than “illegal” migration; but it cannot be right that International Conventions can effectively trump border controls altogether as people seek new lives in other countries. Not least because this fuels international organised crime and human smuggling chains who will continue to prey on vulnerable people by exploiting “irregular” routes.

Many of those in Calais have already been refused permission to stay in an EU country; but as far as they are concerned that is only the start of the process, not the end of it. Those who argue for major UK resettlement offices in France miss the point.

First, if there is hope that by getting into France you have a greater chance of getting into the UK, then more will come to France. Hardly desirable from their point of view, given their own asylum backlogs. Second, we already know that many won’t take no for an answer; and while they remain in France, they will continue to try to penetrate the UK Border by irregular means including this one.

There is certainly a global debate to be had about legal resettlement routes. The frustration of the UNHCR and refugee lobby is palpable. By refusing to open legitimate resettlement programmes for those displaced in source and transit countries, the Western world is simply encouraging irregular migration across multiple borders.

As the transition period comes to an end and we depart the Dublin Convention, we must firstly negotiate safe third country agreements with our neighbours to stop irregular migration and asylum shopping. Anything less is clear evidence that we have lost control of our borders; something we know is unacceptable to most people living here already.

Assuming we are able to do so, the UK could then show the way for the rest of the world to encourage the proper resettlement of some of the 26 million refugees who are already displaced around the world by expanding the UK refugee resettlement scheme.

However, it would be impossible for any government to do so without first demonstrating very clearly to the public that this is “controlled” migration to people who are genuinely deserving of protection; and not “uncontrolled” or “irregular” migration to the UK, over which we have no control.

First and foremost, we must stop the boats and “take back control”. Anything less will continue to undermine public confidence in our border controls and play directly into the hands of the smugglers.

James Somerville-Meikle: The SNP’s overhaul of hate crime legislation is a threat to freedom of expression in Scotland

7 Aug

James Somerville-Meikle is Head of Public Affairs at the Catholic Union of Great Britain.

What do Catholic Bishops and the National Secular Society have in common?

Despite their different world views, they have found common ground in opposing the SNP’s overhaul of hate crime legislation – which both groups fear will damage freedom of expression in Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill was introduced earlier this year with the aim of helping to “build community cohesion”. It has proved more effective than Scottish Ministers could ever have imagined. Most of civil society in Scotland is now united in opposition to the Bill.

A recent consultation by Holyrood’s Justice Committee revealed the full extent of this opposition – which goes well beyond the usual nationalist critics. The Society of Scottish Newspapers, the Law Society of Scotland, and the Scottish Police Federation, have all publicly called for a rethink from the Scottish Government.

A new campaign group – Free to Disagree – has started to oppose the Bill, led by former SNP Deputy Leader Jim Sillars, the National Secular Society, and the Christian Institute. To have brought together such a diverse range of opponents is a pretty impressive achievement by the SNP’s Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf.

But it’s the criticism from the Scottish Catholic Bishops which is perhaps the most striking.

In their submission to the Justice Committee, the Bishops warn that “a new offence of possessing inflammatory material could even render material such as the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church… inflammatory.”

Let’s be clear what this means – the Catholic Church, which counts around 700,000 followers in Scotland, is worried that legislation currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament could make expressing their beliefs a criminal offence.

The Bishops acknowledge their concerns are based on a “low threshold” interpretation of the proposed new offence. But the fact that such concerns exist at all is extraordinary.

Catholic Bishops in Scotland choose their battles carefully – conscious of a public sphere that does not take kindly to lectures from Bishops. The strength of their public comments shows just how much concern there is about the Bill. It’s also perhaps a sign they think this is one area where they might be able to force a change of approach from the Scottish Government.

The Bill would also introduce a new offence of “stirring up hatred” against certain groups, even if a person making the remarks had not intended any offence.

Currently in Scotland, the offence of “stirring up hatred” only applies in respect of race, but this would be expanded under the Bill to include “age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variation in sex characteristics.”

This huge expansion of the law is not combined with any definition of what “stirring up hatred” means. The Bill’s Explanatory Notes say that an offence could be committed through “behaviour of any kind”, which “may consist of a single act or a course of conduct.” In other words, pretty much anything could constitute an offence.

Crucially, criminal behaviour under the new law would be based on offence caused, rather than intended – a significant difference to England and Wales where intent is required for a person to be criminalised for behaviour which someone finds insulting. As a result, it risks creating a situation in which offending becomes an offence.

It’s little wonder that police officers, lawyers, and journalists are deeply worried about the proposals. The Bill paints broad brush strokes and leaves others to work out the picture. The task of interpreting a law where offences are not wholly within your control but based on how others perceive your words and actions, is fraught with perils.

Catholic Bishops fear this could lead to a “deluge of vexatious claims”. The Scottish Police Federation warns it could mean officers “determining free speech”, leading to a breakdown in relations with the public. And the Law Society of Scotland raised concerns that “certain behaviour, views expressed or even an actor’s performance, which might well be deemed insulting or offensive, could result in a criminal conviction under the terms of the bill as currently drafted.” Not exactly the cohesive society envisaged by the Scottish Government.

At the heart of this debate is a fundamental question about what a cohesive and tolerant society looks like. Does tolerance require conformity and removing any possible source of offence? Or does it mean accepting and respecting difference of opinion within certain red lines?

To use No 10’s language – it’s a question of whether we level up or level down when it comes to freedom of expression. In the case of the SNP’s proposals, it looks like a race to the bottom.

This is not an enviable position. As Stephen Evans from the National Secular Society points out:

“Freedom to say only what others find acceptable is no freedom at all.”

There is still time for the Scottish Government to reconsider its approach. Most of the groups opposed to the Bill, including the Catholic Bishops, agree that stirring up hatred is wrong, and would welcome an update to hate crime legislation. But the current approach is not working and Scottish Ministers must realise that.

Creating a catch-all offence, and passing the buck to the police and courts, is not the way forward. It’s sloppy law-making, and risks threatening the vibrancy and diversity of life in Scotland.

The publication of the Bill has shown that people with completely different views are capable of respecting one another, and even working together for a common cause.

What unites religious and secular voices is a belief in freedom of expression. This must be upheld, or we will all suffer as a result.

Alicia Kearns: Levelling up must mean protecting our rural communities

6 Aug

Alicia Kearns is the MP for Rutland and Melton

This week NFU Mutual released their Rural Crime Report. It is not good reading. In the midst of the worst crisis our nation has faced since the Second World War, our rural communities are being hammered by organised crime.

£54.3 million stolen in 2019, the highest in eight years and a nearly nine per cent increase on 2018.

Agricultural vehicle and land rover theft up by over a quarter.

No region of the UK reporting a decline in the cost of crime. Scotland’s numbers up nearly 45 per cent.

This is a crisis in our rural communities, and it must end. But we need resources, and rural people need to be heard and supported. It’s time to level up on rural crime.

Too often when policymakers, the public and the press think of rural crime, it’s almost idyllic: the stakes often low, thefts the actions of overly boisterous young men, and the impact minimal. But in fact, much of rural crime involves the theft of heavy equipment, the very tools that farmers and businesses rely upon to make their living, put food on our tables and maintain our beautiful countryside. The stakes are anything but low. According to the latest yearly figures from the National Police and Crime Commission (NPCC), over £39 million of insurance claims were made because of crime in rural areas.

The NPCC has documented the sophisticated cloning, exporting and asset stripping of farms by organised crime groups. In my constituency, I know of one case where a tractor left a farm one evening and arrived on the shores of Poland the next. This isn’t your opportunistic likely lads nicking a quad bike for a couple of hours.

This has a real impact on local communities – not just financially, but also in terms of the mental health of farmers. The NPCC says that “being watched or ‘staked out’ is the biggest concern for people living in the countryside.” A local NFU representative said to me recently, “country people feel that they are under siege”.Farmers have one of the highest rates of suicide in the country.

But what response have constituents received when seeking help from the authorities? When one constituent had his ATV stolen, the first response from 101 was ‘are you sure your kid hasn’t taken it for a spin’? A local farmer, when he told the operator that several of his sheep were missing, was asked ‘are you sure they haven’t just wandered off?’.

When you have spent your hard-earned money, time, and effort on investing in vehicle immobilizers, the latest CCTV technology, remote tracking, five-lever mortice locks, secure compounds for fuel and remote tracking and cyber tech, only be assumed to be careless when you first ring the police, how can you help but feel anything but disenfranchised and defeated. It’s frankly galling.

Our Conservative Government is making record investments in police capacity, but this must be used to tackle rural crime properly too. We can’t afford not to. We are living in a pandemic, where farmers and businesses have already been clobbered by the drop in food prices and in consumer demand. The costs of crime, the burglary of the very tools that farmers and rural businesses need to survive, will hurt our communities harder than ever and hamper our recovery.

We can’t allow the gangs and organised criminals any more leeway. This will take investment, yes, but it also takes planning from every level of Government to fight this issue.

We need to learn from how we tackle serious organised crime, and county lines and adapt it for rural crime. What would this look like?

  • We need to incorporate the Plant and Agriculture National Intelligence Unit into our policing efforts so that the latest tracking data can be brought to bear.
  • We need to level up and standardise our approaches to rural crime across the UK so that every part of the country gets a comparable level of service.
  • We should invest to make sure that the UK Border Agency can play a more active role in rural crime. When the proceeds of crime can end up in mainland Europe, co-ordination is essential. We must ensure that large machinery stolen on a Monday doesn’t end up across the Channel on a Tuesday.
  • We need to invest in 111 operator training so that complaints about serious rural crime are taken seriously. This training should also include updated Home Office and police guidance on how to best respond to rural threats. I am strongly encouraging the Government to also consider how the review into Police and Crime Commissioner powers can better serve rural communities.
  • We need to invest heavily in mental health in rural areas and think seriously about how we can best support victims. The NHS Long-Term Plan’s £2.3 billion for mental health is an excellent start, and some must go to improving services in rural areas.

The Government has already made landmark commitments to tackle crime, with 20,000 more police officers, a 2.5 per cent pay-rise, and targeted local investments. We have the momentum to truly transform rural policing, and rural lives, for the better. As we level up the nation, we must also level up on our approach to policing and protecting rural communities. I look forward to working with our strong Home Office and Justice Ministerial Teams, as well as our strong contingent of rural MPs to get justice for our communities and stamp out serious organised crime in our countryside.