In the Media

PM delivers bleak assessment of crime

PUBLISHED June 25, 2006

Tony Blair claimed that many people feel "overwhelmed" by crime as he delivered a blunt assessment of the failings of the police, courts and prisons.

The Prime Minister accused some professionals within the criminal justice system of defeatism, but insisted the problems besetting it could be solved. He was speaking in Bristol shortly after suffering a hostile reception from residents of Southmead, a district of Bristol plagued by crime and antisocial behaviour.

He acknowledged that many communities were struggling for a sense of security over their everyday lives. "People feel that there is a degree to which they have lost control and they want to get it back in the communities in which they live and work."

In a speech today, Mr Blair will stress his determination to rebalance the criminal justice system so that the "rights of the suspect" do not outweigh the rights of "the law-abiding majority". He will say: "In practice there is such a conflict and every day we don't resolve it, the consequence is not abstract, it's out there, very real, on our streets."

He will call for a "rational debate from first principles, preferably unrelated to the immediate issues of the moment" because crime, security and immigration stir emotions and headlines.

Yesterday, Mr Blair said there was widespread disillusionment with the courts. He said: "People feel the criminal justice system is weighted in such a way that people who play by the rules and abide by the law feel displaced and aren't getting a fair crack of the whip."

He admitted there were problems getting support in prison for offenders who wanted to mend their ways and conceded that the public wanted policing that was more visible and communicated better with local communities. "People feel their views aren't being taken into account," he said.

Mr Blair said the "controversial and difficult" issues of crime, antisocial behaviour and illegal immigration preoccupied all EU governments. "I think a lot of the people working in the [criminal justice] system have become defeatist about it."

He was speaking at a Labour Party consultation exercise with 60 criminal justice experts and local residents. Rose Manning, from Knowle, near Bristol, told him: "If you get petty crime 24 hours a day on your doorstep it ceases to be petty." And she protested that some people saw antisocial behaviour orders "almost as a badge of honour".

Mr Blair got a hostile reception when he arrived at the White Hall Community Centre, with several members of a 60-strong crowd jeering at him. One woman threw an egg, which missed him and broke over the road. She was arrested.

Despite spending nearly an hour speaking to victims of crime inside the hall, few outside seemed to think he had done much to help tackle antisocial behaviour.

Michelle Stone, 27, said: "We've got groups of 30 youths who hang around outside my home causing chaos. They're armed with baseball bats and snooker cues and they are totally out of control."

Michele Elliott, director of the charity Kidscape, urged the Prime Minister to provide more cash for rehabilitation of offenders.

Other speakers warned there were problems with electronic tagging of offenders and gave a mixed verdict on the Government's plans for national identity cards.