Crime clampdown: PM pledges tougher stop and search powers and more prison places

11 August 2019, 01:34 | Updated: 11 August 2019, 13:37

Extended stop and search powers, tougher sentences and more prison places are among the number of pledges Boris Johnson has made as he rolls out a tough government line on crime. 

The prime minister has announced £2.5bn will be invested into creating 10,000 new prison places.

Powers to stop and search will be extended to cover an additional 8,000 officers in England and Wales in an attempt to tackle the continuing knife crime crisis.

Labour has called on the prime minister to explain where the funding is coming from, and said his pledge to recruit 20,000 police officers over the next three years is less than the number cut since 2010.

It comes days after a police officer was stabbed in the head with a machete in east London.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson said: "We need to come down hard on crime. That means coming down hard on criminals.

"I want the criminals to be afraid - not the public."

This is the second time this year that stop and search powers have been extended.

All police forces across the country will have the power to stop and search anyone in a designated area, without needing reasonable grounds for suspicion, if they think there is a threat of serious violence.

The controversial move, which was piloted in March across seven forces in areas with high knife crime, means authorisation from a senior officer is no longer needed and can be conducted when officers think serious violence "may" occur. Previously, they had to feel it "will" occur.

Mr Johnson acknowledged in his newspaper article that the move is controversial, but said he believed parents of those children most at risk of getting caught up in knife crime would support it.

He said the "first duty" of any government was to protect the public.

"We have the impression of a growing culture of insolence on the part of the thugs; and in the face of that sense of impunity - entirely misplaced - I believe the British public knows instinctively what we must do," he said.

Stop and search numbers have more than doubled in the last two years. Data from eight of the UK’s largest forces shows that the use of stop and search doubled from 15,557 instances in March 2017 to 33,022 in March 2019.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Sunday that all police forces across the country will have the power to stop and search anyone in a designated area, without needing reasonable grounds for suspicion, if they think there is a threat of serious violence.

"Stop and search works. We hear again and again that our police need to be empowered. And as we're recruiting 20,000 more police officers we need them to be out making sure that those who want to do harm are prevented from doing harm," Ms Patel said.

But rights groups say the tactic disproportionately targets young, black men.

Katrina French, chief executive of Stopwatch, told Sky News: "What it's actually going to do is harm the relationship between young people involved in serious youth violence.

"And we already know historically, the black community has very little trust in the police.

"So if we're going to have suspicionless searches, I feel, rather than safeguarding, which is how the home secretary and I suppose the prime minister, to some extent, are packaging this that 'we're protecting young people from young people', what we're going to do is form bad relationships between the police and young people.

"So much so, that if they are victims of crime, they won't report it."

Detective Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock, national lead on stop and search, explained the need for expanded powers.

"We're seeing violence of some sort or another every day, all over the country. And the ability for officers to react quickly when that has happened, and use the powers available to them without needing to get any additional authority or top cover, so that they can quickly either find the people who have committed the crime or who may have weapons in response to that crime, is really important."

Commenting on Britain's prisons, the prime minister said investment was "long overdue".

He said: "When the police catch a violent criminal, it is vital they get the sentence they deserve. At present there are too many serious violent or sexual offenders who are coming out of prison long before they should.

"In the last five years, we have seen literally hundreds of convicted rapists who have come out of prison commit another sexual offence... This cannot go on. I am afraid that as a society we have no choice but to insist on tougher sentencing laws for serious sexual and violent offenders, and for those who carry knives."

Mr Johnson acknowledged that an increase in prisoners will "in the short term... mean more pressure on our jails" and said that work must also be done to "reduce overcrowding, beef up security, and do more to educate in jail".

He will create a new 1,000 place facility at the Full Sutton jail in East Yorkshire, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

And the prime minister will announce next week that prisoners will no longer be automatically released early having served half their sentence, the paper added.

Louise Haigh, Labour's shadow police minister and a former special constable, told Sky News: "The criminal justice system is on its knees after nine years of austerity.

"So it's going to take more than just investment in policing in order to fix the problems that we've seen over the last nine year."

Ms Haigh said the courts system, cuts to legal aid, privatisation of the probation service all needed reform to help tackle violent crime.

She promised her party would restore community policing - funded by reversing cuts to capital gains tax.