Tuesday, May 28

Theresa May says police knife crime claims are simply not true



Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is to accuse Britain’s top police officer of making untrue claims over the causes of rising knife crime.

In a hard-hitting speech to a policing conference, Mrs May will insist it is “simply not true” that incidents involving knives have increased due to Home Office-led changes to stop and search powers.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, announced in June that he was sanctioning renewed use of the controversial powers as he explicitly linked their rationing with a 25 per cent jump in knife crime in the capital.

In a rebuke which signals ever-worsening relations between the Home Secretary, Sir Bernard and other senior officers, Mrs May will accuse them of “a knee-jerk reaction on the back of a false link”.

The Home Secretary will say to the National Black Police Association Conference that it is “simply not true that knife crime is rising because the police are no longer stopping and searching those carrying knives”.

Although Mrs May will not name Sir Bernard as the focus of her retaliation, his public comments on stop and search clearly indicate he is the principal target.

She will add: “When stop and search is misapplied, and when people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is unfair, it wastes valuable police time, and it damages the relationship between communities and the police.

“I know there are those who say that our reforms have gone too far, that the pendulum has swung too much the other way, and that reforms to stop and search are linked to knife crime in our capital and elsewhere.

“But to them I say this: stop and search reform has worked, it must continue, and – if you look at the evidence – it shows no link whatsoever with violent crime.

“Properly targeted, stop and search will actually help reduce knife crime. It will save police time to focus on prevention and work with gangs, and it will improve the relationship between the police and the public on which all of your work rests.

“We must not jettison all that good work for the sake of a knee-jerk reaction on the back of a false link.”

It follows months of friction between the Home Office and Scotland Yard over Mrs May’s decision to allow Sir Bernard to use four water cannon purchased at a cost of more than £300,000, and over impending budget cuts.

He told staff last month: “The time has come to fight our corner. Watch this space.”

There has also been considerable friction between Mrs May and police over her determination to see less use of stop and search because of its disproportionate use against ethnic minorities.

In an interview with the BBC in June Sir Bernard said: “Over the last three years we have listened to feedback from the public about too much ineffective stop and search.

“But over the last three months there has been a rise in stabbings and that has caused us to review our position on stop and search.”

He went on: “If we are getting to the stage where people think they can carry knives with impunity, that can’t be good for anyone.

“We don’t want to see a return to a million stop and searches, but there is an argument for more use of stop and search focused on high knife crime areas and targeting gangs.”

The Home Secretary’s speech in Birmingham will also criticise police for failing to address a long-standing lack of black and Asian officers.

She will point out that new data, to be published on Thursday, showing four forces in England and Wales have no black officers at all, while 11 have no have no ethnic minority officers at chief inspector rank or above.

“Increasing diversity in our police forces is not an optional extra,” she will say, according to extracts of the speech released in advance.

“We must ensure that the public have trust and confidence in the police, and that the police reflect the communities they serve.

“Incredibly, four forces do not employ any black or black British police officers at all, and female officers make up 28 per cent of all police officers but 51 per cent of the total population.

“This is simply not good enough.”

She will cite statistics on knife crime which entirely focus on London, further showing her criticisms are aimed at the Commissioner.

The Home Secretary will say there is no correlation between London boroughs that have decreased stops and searches, and those with rises in knife crime.

In the year to June 2015, there was a 24 per cent rise in police-recorded violence against the person, including a 15 per cent rise in violence with injury.

Over the same period the Met cut the number of stop and searches by 39 per cent or 96,778.

However, the Office for National Statistics has said increases in violent crime is likely to be as a result of better recording by police rather than an actual change in crime trends.

In 2014 statistics showed black people were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites.

In April last year Mrs May said use of stop and search had become an “unacceptable affront to justice” after Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that 27 per cent of searches did not contain reasonable grounds for suspicion.