It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, which has great significance. The first duty of the state is to protect its citizens; that is why we have our outstanding armed forces, and why we have the police and the criminal justice system. I commend the police officers across my county of Essex. They often put themselves in harm’s way to do the right thing—to protect the public and bring to justice those responsible for serious crime. On that point, I give a special commendation to our police and crime commissioner, Roger Hirst, and to our new chief inspector, BJ Harrington. Essex borders London and is part of the home counties. We face a range of issues, which the Home Secretary mentioned, including county lines and the associated criminality, which can travel quickly.
We all know of the heroic acts of bravery undertaken by the police, and we all have examples from our own constituencies. Each and every one of us knows of the sacrifices that our frontline officers make and the threats that they face daily. I also want to comment on the actions of others in our local communities—especially the voluntary sector and community groups, who work tirelessly and with great devotion to steer people away from criminality. They are the unsung heroes in our constituencies who bring calm, and who work with criminal enforcement agencies to prevent crime and steer young people, in particular, on to the right path.
Despite such efforts, there is a sorry state of affairs in our country today. Far too many criminals are walking our streets and acting with impunity. We have heard from the Home Secretary about the individuals who terrorise our communities. They target vulnerable children and adults, and they profit from causing harm and misery. All too often, the criminal justice system fails to stand up for the victims and fails to punish the perpetrators for the crimes that they commit.
We have heard many examples, and I am sure we will hear others from Members today, of cases in which the police have worked hard to gather evidence on offenders so that they can be prosecuted, brought to trial and found guilty, only for the courts to set them free or let them off the hook with soft sentences. That means that the offenders do not spend enough time in jail on rehabilitation, where people can spend time with them and invest in them as individuals so that they do not go back out and commit more offences.
I do not have time to go into all the many figures today, but the National Crime Agency has published a conservative estimate of the number of active county lines participants across the country. Those individuals get caught up in the criminal justice system, and their lives are ravaged by a spiral of drugs, abuse, debt and crime. It is fair to say that we would urge the Government to strengthen the ability of our police to ensure that those responsible for organising criminal acts are subject to the right kind of actions in prison and in the criminal justice system so that they do not go back and destroy other people’s lives. That is something we should not forget.
In the few minutes I have, I would like to give two examples of where my constituents have been betrayed and let down by the justice system. The first involves a lady who was the victim of an abusive ex-partner. He inflicted serious violence on her over a prolonged period and beat her so severely and violently that she was left blinded in one eye. When she worked up the courage to seek justice, she was let down by the criminal justice system.
This vulnerable victim of domestic abuse was tormented over a prolonged period and had life-changing injuries, but the Crown Prosecution Service did not stand up for her and press for compensation or the right kind of justice for her. This is where we must look at not just police enforcement and serious crime, but how the whole criminal justice system stands up for victims. At the end of the day, we as Members of Parliament have a duty to victims of crime and to access justice for them so that they can get the right course of action.
The second case is that of a constituent who came to me recently, who was the victim of a serious violent assault last year in Brighton. He was beaten up and left injured—punched multiple times in an unprovoked attack. His injuries and recovery stopped him from working, and he lost his business. The offender was violent and aggressive. What kind of sentence did he receive? He received a 12-month community order and was made to do 80 hours of unpaid work and five days of rehabilitation, and to pay costs of £85. My constituent was awarded compensation of just £100. He said:
“I now have no job. I couldn’t work for a couple of weeks and because I was self-employed all my customers left.”
He has no sense that justice was done. He was a victim of crime, and he is still left suffering.
That is the point. Where is the justice? It is down to this Government to have a much more integrated approach. In fairness to the Home Secretary, he spoke in his remarks about how the severe problem of serious crime affects communities and individuals. However, we must square the circle: we must not allow perpetrators of crime to go and brag on Facebook, which is what happened in this case. We need to see and show that the Government have the right approach to the criminal justice system and that the punishment fits the crime.
To conclude, if we are to tackle serious and violent crime in our society, we have to use many methods—nobody in this House would dispute that. Yes, we need better education and more support for vulnerable people and those at risk of becoming serious and violent criminals: absolutely. We also need better rehabilitation for offenders. However, we cannot ignore the need to defend victims of crime, to keep our communities safe and to make sure that offenders face the right sanctions. Failure to do so means that public trust and confidence are undermined, and that is not what we want. It is down to the Government, through the actions that my right hon. Friend has spelled out, to ensure we have an integrated approach to serious crime and tackling the many issues that blight our communities.