Offence of threatening with an offensive weapon etc in a private place

Part of Offensive Weapons Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 28th November 2018.

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Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn 5:00 pm, 28th November 2018

I rise to speak in support of my new clause 26, and I thank my hon. Friend Louise Haigh for her support in that. I also, surprisingly, thank Huw Merriman for his support for the amendment, although I am disappointed that he did not say that I am one of the nicest people in the House—perhaps I can prove that to him afterwards.

Some Members have already referred to the Metropolitan police video that went viral showing officers tactically nudging criminals off their bikes in the height of chase. Regardless of whether people support that police strategy, the strength of feeling on this matter is demonstrated by the fact that the video was retweeted thousands of times and appeared on the front pages of the papers. That is because so many people have been, or know someone who has been, a victim of crimes committed by people on mopeds.

Criminals use mopeds because of the element of surprise it gives when attacking the victim, the victim’s helplessness when hit by someone on a moped, and the speed at which the criminal can get away, which makes it particularly effective for theft. Constituents in Hampstead and Kilburn have told me that they are now scared to walk down the street either talking on their phone or showing any of their possessions because they fear someone on a moped snatching those items away. I speak today to give those people a voice and to speak up on behalf of those who believe that the existing legislation to deal with such crimes is no longer sufficient.

In Committee, I tabled a similar amendment that sought to ensure that the use of a moped while possessing an offensive weapon would become an aggravating factor in sentencing. Committee members supported that move. My right hon. Friend Stephen Timms noted the close link between acid attacks and the use of mopeds. I think it is fair to say that my right hon. Friend probably knows this Bill better than anyone else in the House—I hope the Minister will forgive me for saying that—and I will say more about his testimony in support of my amendment in a moment.

My hon. Friend Sarah Jones has done an enormous amount of work on knife crime in her constituency, and she spoke of a couple who had been out walking with their seven-year-old daughter when two people wearing masks and on mopeds came up to them and held a knife to the neck of the daughter. I am sure that Members will understand how frightening and scary that must have been for the family. I am pleased to say that the Minister, who is not in her place, supported the sentiment behind my amendment. She spoke about the short-term and long-term effects of moped crime and acknowledged that their presence in attacks using corrosive substances was a “worryingly frequent occurrence”. However, the Government voted down my amendment, which has paved the way for my new clause today.

New clause 26 seeks to introduce an aggravated offence of possessing a corrosive substance or dangerous knife. A person would be guilty under the new clause if they committed an offence under clause 6 while driving a moped or while a passenger on a moped. If found guilty, offenders would be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to a fine, or to both. The liability would be the same for England, Wales and Scotland. I know from the Minister’s feedback to the Committee that she was concerned that my amendment was restrictive, which is why I have reflected on it and returned with a new clause that will instead legislate for moped-enabled acid possession to be an aggravated form of the basic offence, rather than being treated as an aggravating factor when sentencing for the basic offence. In other words, new clause 26 addresses the serious specific circumstances that are unique to moped crimes while leaving the sentencing to the discretion of the court.

I should like to remind the Minister and Conservative Members that there is a clear precedent for taking this route. Under section 12 of the Theft Act 1968, taking a vehicle without consent carries a maximum sentence of six months. The aggravated offence under section 12A of that Act—driving the taken vehicle in a dangerous manner—carries a maximum sentence of two years. Let us also remember the campaign of my hon. Friend Chris Bryant. Common assault under section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 carries a sentence of six months. An assault under section 1 of his Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 carries a maximum sentence of 12 months. Members from across the House have told me that they are sick to death of moped crime in their constituencies and the misery that it creates for people living there. They are looking for further deterrents, and my new clause provides an opportunity that I hope we can all get behind.

Beyond looking at the precedents involved, I urge the Government to support my new clause today, because moped crimes are far too numerous for us to be content with the current strategy. Innovative action from the police—whether the spray-tagging of mopeds or tactical collisions—has led to a not insignificant fall in moped crime, but the problem still exists. In June last year alone, Camden suffered 1,363 moped crimes. In 2017, the Metropolitan police reported that 24% of their pursuits involved officers chasing mopeds or scooters. This year, the figure rose to 40%.

I quote one constituent from Hampstead Town, who said:

“I’m on the verge of moving out. The situation is out of control. I’ve” suffered attempted muggings

“twice in 10 days. I was walking on the pavement and people on motorbikes tried to steal my wallet, in the middle of the day.”

Such stories are common across all the forums in my constituency, especially among young mothers, who when pushing their prams are particularly worried about being attacked from the back, because they are keeping an eye on their child but also trying to keep an eye on their possessions.

In Committee the Minister rightly argued against complacency, but objected to my amendment, saying that,

“aggravating factors…could be too restrictive, in terms of only applying to mopeds”.

That surely is not a reason to vote down new clause 26; it is a reason to accept my measure and look at expanding the scope.

In addition, conviction rates are unacceptably low. In 2017-18, detection rates for offences resolved through a sanction stood at just 2.6%, which means that more than 97% of moped criminals escaped justice in just that year. That is appalling and unjust.

Moped crime is also costly. As the Minister said in Committee,

“we focus on the terrible psychological and physical impact of these crimes, but often…there is an economic impact”––[Official Report, Offensive Weapons Public Bill Committee, 11 September 2018;
c. 316-7.]

on livelihoods. I urge Members to read the testimony of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, who spoke about the economic impact on delivery people, and the impact on their livelihood when they are hit by moped crime. It should give us all pause for thought as to whether the current strategy is really working, or whether we should be doing something about the current strategy to ensure that we are not all hit by moped crime over and over again.

Of course the Metropolitan police is entitled to celebrate its considerable successes when it reduces any form of crime by a significant degree, but I am sure that Metropolitan police officers and all constituents would say there is a lot more that we can do, and that greater deterrents for moped criminals would be welcome.

My new clause seeks to provide a remedy to that problem. The Minister’s rhetoric on moped crime is welcome, but we need to ensure that our legislation actually reflects the unique fears and threats that moped criminals represent to the public. Viral videos will not deter future moped criminals from instilling fear in my constituents, but tougher approaches to the offence may just do that. That is why I commend new clause 26, and hope that Ministers and Tory Members will see fit to support it.