'Dangerous and irresponsible': Police chiefs' fury at leaked document suggesting officers make fewer arrests

22 May 2024, 15:32

Police chiefs are angry at a leaked document suggesting fewer arrests should be made because of low prison capacity.
Police chiefs are angry at a leaked document suggesting fewer arrests should be made because of low prison capacity. Picture: Alamy
Fraser Knight.

By Fraser Knight.

Police chiefs are said to be furious about a leaked note that suggests they should consider reducing the number of arrests their forces make because of a lack of prison space.

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A letter from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) last week urged chief constables to think about “pausing non-priority arrests” and planned operations which could lead to a large number of detentions.

But a source close to one chief told LBC that many decided against implementing it and claimed the sharing of the note publicly has “significantly blown it out of proportion” describing it as “dangerous and irresponsible”.

Operation Early Dawn, which was triggered by the Ministry of Justice earlier this month, has seen some magistrate court hearings delayed as a result of there being a lack of space to put people in jail, if they’re remanded into custody.

That means police cells are being used for longer by those waiting for a first court appearance in London, the north-east and north-west of England.

Read more: Police chiefs told to arrest fewer people to save space in overcrowded prisons

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Police chiefs in other regions are said to be frustrated at being asked to also consider contingency measures despite them having “plenty of space” in their cells and prisons, but are happy to be on “standby, just in case”.

LBC has been told some have expressed concerns of criminals trying to take advantage because of the publicity around the internal memo.

Others are worried frontline officers may be hesitant to make an arrest, because of concerns there’s a lack of space, in areas where there isn’t.

The source said they expect multiple chiefs will “very soon” come out swinging saying: “If you commit a crime, you will be arrested, perhaps even quicker than ever”.

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Already, the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Dame Lynne Owens, has insisted that criminals in London will still be arrested.

"The Met asserted at [last week’s meeting with the NPCC] and we repeat again today that we will always put protecting the public first and will never agree to pausing any necessary arrests," she said.

"We will not hesitate to seek for suspects to be remanded in custody where the grounds for that are made out.”

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley, Matthew Barber, has also said he’d push back against the calls to make fewer arrests to help ease pressures on prisons.

Labour's Shabana Mahmood has hit out at the suggestion
Labour's Shabana Mahmood has hit out at the suggestion. Picture: Alamy

"This will not be happening in Thames Valley. As Police & Crime Commissioner I cannot direct operational policing, but neither can the NPCC," he posted on social media.

"I am however responsible for holding the police to account and earlier this week I discussed the crisis in the prison population with my Chief Constable.

"We’re in full agreement that the police need to continue to act and make arrests without fear or favour, not based on problems elsewhere in the system."

The move has sparked a political row, too, with Labour saying “this cannot go on”.

Policing minister Chris Philp
Policing minister Chris Philp. Picture: Alamy

Shadow Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood expressed disbelief that police "are being told to sit on their hands and ignore crime because the Conservatives have mismanaged the criminal justice system so badly."

She added: "Rishi Sunak’s rap sheet now reads: the rushed early release of domestic abusers onto our streets, deliberate delays to trials, and victims waiting years for justice.

"The public will be absolutely dumbfounded. This cannot go on."

Responding to an urgent question on the reports, Policing Minister Chris Philp said the proposals put out by the NPCC "were not required" and that he was not "aware" of any delays to arrest.

He added that there had been “no compromise” to public safety, but there had been “minor delays” in getting some people to court.

The chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: "We are working closely with criminal justice system partners to manage demand in the system and ensure that the public are safe.

"Policing will always arrest anyone that they need to in order to keep the public safe, including policing protests and events and ensuring that people are arrested as expected."

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