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Theresa May "ignorant and out of touch" with knife crime response, says expert

Prime Minister Theresa May has been "completely ignorant and out of touch” with her response to the alarming rise in knife crime which has been partly driven by her Government’s austerity policy, says a Liverpool academic.

Mrs May has drawn widespread criticism after she insisted there was “no direct correlation” between violent crime and falling police numbers caused by cuts to public services in England and Wales.

Yet the UK's top police officer, Cressida Dick, said there was "obviously" a link between the two, and former head of the Metropolitan Police Lord Stevens was even more outspoken telling BBC Radio 4 that “I don't think she listens, quite frankly, to what she's being told”.

The issue of knife crime was debated by Mrs May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, after two 17-year-olds were killed in separate stabbings in London and Greater Manchester at the weekend.

In Lancashire, six people have been arrested over a gang attack at a sixth form college. A machete was found near Runshaw College in Leyland, following Monday's incident.

And on Merseyside it was reported last year that Knife crime in the region was at its highest level in 10 years, with more than 900 serious incidents.

Dr Jen Hough, a lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at Liverpool Hope University, said Mrs May’s response is troubling but the reduction in police numbers is only part of the problem.

“Mrs May cannot simply say that there is not a correlation, especially when there are police, researchers, charities - who work on the ground – stating the opposite.

"She is either attempting to cover up the mistakes she made as Home Secretary or she really is that out of touch.

“There needs to be adequate policing to tackle any sort of crime, and the overarching issue here is austerity; closure of community centres, depleted social services, education funding cuts, change of welfare benefits (such as the disastrous Universal Credit) - all occurred since 2010 too.

"It was always going to take a period of time to really feel the effects of these drastic cuts.

“The young people involved in this are the generation which have grown up during the recession which may play a part – they are disenfranchised by a lack of opportunities and fueled by an increased use of social media.

“Cuts have led to what has been described as a ‘crisis of the Criminal Justice System’ – which means there are huge backlogs and offences aren’t being dealt with as effectively as they could be, which isn’t much of a deterrent."

Dr Hough said proposed responses, such as ASBO-style orders designed to clamp down on knife violence in particular, must be properly thought through.

“We have to be careful of criminalising people who are only ‘believed’ to be carrying a bladed article and creating a label, such as the ASBO, led to that being seen as a badge of honour by some,” she said.

“Plus ASBOS were introduced when there were more police – cuts in police numbers will mean this is very difficult to implement anyway – there can be the best plans but if there is no one to execute them how will they work?

“In 10 years, we've seen a drop of 20,000 officers – there are only around 122,000 anyway."

Dr Hough has said that proper investment in criminal justice agencies, community intervention strategies and education is needed here and would have more impact than headline-grabbing task forces.

"There is no point saying there should be COBRA style meetings if those who are committing the offences are going to be left waiting for a court date for six months or there aren’t enough police officers to implement any decisions made," she said.

"The media can play a role in this too – by focusing more on the deterrents and successful prosecutions it can make people aware that they will be held accountable for their actions.

“But really the only way this can happen is if the prime minster is accountable for her actions too and admits that cuts to funding in areas such as policing and the local community have contributed to the issues we are seeing today.

"Phillip Hammond says he has not ruled out more funding, but that it isn’t just about money as the police need to work more effectively with what they already have, so he is just reiterating what May said when she was Home Secretary.

"However, the Mayor of London has said this morning that there needs to be more money spent and urges the prime minister to take action now.

"In 2015 Theresa May gave a speech to a policy think tank stating that the police will ‘just have to do more with less’, well now it has become obvious that they cannot do what they need to with what they have."

Published on 29/05/2019