Summer Fairs & Crime

Labour's man Stuart King writes to Putney

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This weekend was the first real summer weekend and, appropriately, there were several fairs and fetes taking place that I had the pleasure of attending. I am a Governor at Allfarthing primary school, where my sister and I were pupils (as also was our Mum!). So I started Saturday by joining my fellow governors helping out at the bar at the school’s summer fair. Afterwards, I paid a visit to the summer fete at the RSPCA animal hospital in Clarendon Drive, and then it was on to the Friends of Queen Mary’s Hospital summer party in Roehampton.

Since my selection a year ago I have regularly surveyed residents and canvassed opinion in Putney on local priorities and concerns. The issues raised are wide ranging but one crops up time and again: crime and disorder. Despite a sharp fall in crime locally (you can see the latest figures here on my website), concern about crime remains acute.

Tackling people’s fear of crime is as important as tackling crime itself: the two go hand in hand. That is why I have been a staunch and vocal supporter of Safer Neighbourhood Police teams (SNTs). SNTs provide a reassuring and visible uniformed presence on our streets: the return of “Bobbies on the beat”. But SNTs also prevent, detect and solve crimes. In the past few months the following police successes have all been achieved thanks either to the direct involvement of SNTs or as a result of intelligence they obtained from the local community:

* The arrest and conviction of a Southfields-based gang leader, who has not only been sentenced to four years in jail, but who also had the trappings and proceeds of his criminal activity confiscated under legislation brought in by the Labour Government. I want to see a far greater use of this legislation, especially for those convicted of offences relating to the supply of drugs.

* The seizure of £20,000 of cannabis and crack cocaine on a West Hill council estate and the closing down of the former Conservative club in Roehampton, after it was raided and hard drugs found on the premises.

* The recent seizure of a moped from a youth who was uninsured, driving without a licence and causing a nuisance in the Dover House Road area. The seizure, again using powers strengthened by this Government, is particularly welcome as I know residents are hounded by youths on mopeds as the nights stay lighter longer as summer approaches. I hope this sends out a strong message to others that their moped will be confiscated if they create a nuisance or drive uninsured.

* The police have also been preventing crime by helping establish new Neighbourhood Watches, most recently in Wymond Street and Rotherwood Road.

But in spite of these successes, I know that there is much more that still needs to be done to tackle crime locally and we can’t rest on our laurels. Without doubt the most shocking crimes that have befallen London have been the recent murders of teenagers from knife attacks. By and large, their attackers have been fellow youths whose motives have verged from the petty to the non-existent.

On my website I have set out some of my thoughts on this worrying issue. I hope that the new Government-driven advertising campaign on the consequences of carrying knives will deter some youngsters from this downward spiral. Simply put, if you carry a knife you will either end up in jail, in hospital or dead.

That is why I think the time has come for widespread but random use of knife scanners at key transport interchanges, supported by wider use of stop and search in hot spot areas of our capital. I recognise such an approach will inconvenience many public transport users, and hassle a lot of law-abiding teenagers. I think this is a price we as a society have to pay in the short term.

The good news is that, despite the headlines, action and intervention does work: a couple of years ago, the papers that today sensationalise this troubling and unacceptable spate of knife attacks were full of stories about gun crime. The reason that they aren’t any more isn’t because knife crimes are stealing the limelight – it’s because there has been a sustained and largely successful campaign to get guns off our streets. Doing the same with knives will be harder because they’re so much easier to get hold of – but my message is: don’t despair; I know that police, teachers, community leaders and politicians of all parties are committed to dealing with the knife-crime menace.

June 13, 2008