Violent Crime and Antisocial Behaviour: Carshalton and Wallington

– in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 7 December 2023.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Joy Morrissey.)

Photo of Elliot Colburn Elliot Colburn Conservative, Carshalton and Wallington

May I begin by expressing how devastated I am that Jim Shannon is not here to intervene on me? I have heard that that is a staple of Adjournment debates, but I fear that I will miss out on the opportunity. Nevertheless, I will soldier on and do what I can.

I would like to address a growing concern in our community of Carshalton and Wallington: violent crime and antisocial behaviour, which demands our attention and is a huge concern to my constituents. I am delighted that my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend Chris Philp, is the Minister responding today, because he will know about many of these issues already. I am also delighted to be joined by my hon. Friend Paul Scully, who will know full well about some of the issues I plan to raise. I will start with a few recent examples of violent crime and antisocial behaviour in the constituency.

On 3 October, a man was fatally stabbed in Roundshaw, just a week after a tragic stabbing in the neighbouring borough of Croydon, which I know the Minister is aware of as the constituency MP for the area. That followed a number of recent attacks, not all of which took place in my constituency—some occurred in neighbouring Croydon, including the tragic case of a 15-year-old girl—involving several of the many teenagers who have been killed on London’s streets in 2023. Each one is a tragedy.

In Wallington, a man sustained a thankfully non-life-threatening chest wound and a woman suffered a hand injury in a knife attack on Birchwood Avenue last Saturday. I thank the police for their work. They always respond with the utmost professionalism, and they do a fantastic job. I also thank the air ambulance and NHS staff who cared for the victims. However, such incidents are of concern, because the London borough of Sutton, which includes Carshalton and Wallington, has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the safest in London, often competing with Richmond. Violent crime is not something we are necessarily used to, so seeing it happen on our streets over the course of the last few months is of real concern.

Like the inboxes of many of my colleagues across the capital, my inbox is often full of correspondence from residents, concerned parents and others who feel vulnerable and unsafe because of the crime that is happening in their area. It must not be allowed to continue. I vividly remember one constituent writing to me after the attack in Roundshaw to say that she did not feel safe enough to put her bins out in the dark. Another’s teenage daughter did not want to leave the house for fear of being attacked. We must not let that become the new normal in London—or anywhere, for that matter.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Conservative, Sutton and Cheam

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. We have had the sad news of the fatal stabbing of a 17-year-old boy outside Sutton station, and a 15-year-old was recently killed in the Minister’s town of Croydon. Not only do we have to lean into knife crime, which is sometimes imported into Sutton; we also need to make sure that we can bring down the fear of crime. Often it is imported by gangs, but it is really important that we can reassure people that the police are there and that we have a holistic view of knife crime in Sutton.

Photo of Elliot Colburn Elliot Colburn Conservative, Carshalton and Wallington

Absolutely; I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for that intervention. He is absolutely right about the need to bring down the fear of crime and introducing measures to do that, and I would like to hear more from the Minister about what steps the Home Office is taking in that respect. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about providing reassurance, and I will go into that in a bit more detail. I pay tribute to him for his time as one of the longest-serving Ministers for London, and for the work he did in this space. He has been a fantastic champion of his constituency and the capital, and he is a great loss to the Government, but I am pleased to have him back on the Back Benches helping me to advocate for our fantastic borough of Sutton.

On 30 October—just a few weeks ago—a 15-year-old boy who was minding his own business was approached by another teenage boy, who led him to a block of flats, where three other teenagers armed with knives awaited. The young victim was robbed of his phone. That incident was one of many that underscores the vulnerability of our youth and the audacity of those who will prey on our children. Our children’s minds should be free to explore and not be occupied with threats to their lives, but, sadly, that was not an isolated incident.

Our community has witnessed rises in house break-ins and people trying car doors. One of the most common things that I see on social media is Ring doorbell footage of people trying car doors or front doors late at night in our community. That really makes people feel violated and scared in their own homes, and that cannot be right. These doorbell cameras deter crime in their own right. I often encourage my constituents to get them, because thankfully I have seen many videos where someone has clocked a Ring doorbell camera and turned away from the house. That is fantastic, but it is awful how often such footage comes up on social media.

Another fairly distressing incident was that of a four- year-old child who was slapped at a bus stop just a couple of weeks ago. Though details are still emerging, and I do not want to prejudice investigations in any of the cases I raise, that incident underscores the urgency with which we must tackle the root causes of knife crime and antisocial behaviour in our community. No child, no parent and no person should be left with the weight of that trauma or left feeling unsafe in their own community.

In our area in the last year, thefts are up by 31%, sexual offences are up by 43% and robberies are up by 58%. Those statistics are alarming—and more so because they are not part of a national trend. Across the whole of the United Kingdom, crime has fallen since 2010—the Minister will want to expand on the Government’s record in bringing crime down—so we must ask ourselves why it is only within London that we do not see that trend being played out. Some responsibility—in fact, I would argue quite a lot—must rest on the shoulders of the police and crime commissioner for London, who also happens to be the Mayor of London.

We have seen London benefit from the massive increase in police officers—we met our manifesto commitment of 20,000 new police officers, and 3,666 of those are working on the streets of London—yet we see this worrying trend with crime levels. Even just this past week, the Mayor of London was caught out misleading Londoners on statistics about crime in London. He may not be prepared to put the work in and would rather spend his time jetting off around the world trying to sell his book, legalise weed or whatever it is he is interested in doing other than getting on with his job. However, we cannot leave criminals to take over the streets of London, so I would really like to understand what work the Home Office is doing with the Metropolitan police to recapture the trust of Londoners and get on with the job of deterring and catching criminals, ensuring that our constituents—those of the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, and mine—are kept safe.

I absolutely welcome the increase in police numbers, but we face unique challenges on the fringes of London, from which a significant number of officers are regularly transferred away for major events in central London, where help is needed for policing, leaving only a minimal presence in outer London. I would like to hear a bit more from the Minister on the work that he is doing in the Home Office with the Metropolitan police to address that promptly so that when big events happen in central London, neighbourhood and local policing in outer London does not suffer.

Collaboration between the police and local communities is also paramount, and policing is only half the battle. I absolutely want to continue advocating for an increased police presence. We all want to see bobbies back on the beat, and it is great to see those new police officers getting out there in our communities and doing just that, but we must also tackle the causes of crime and antisocial behaviour along the way. Education is a crucial step in doing that. We have seen how that has worked in other parts of the world, and even here in the United Kingdom. Glasgow was once the most violent city in the whole of Europe. It took a different approach to violent crime, and has turned that reputation around and driven down that number.

In London, we were promised a violence reduction unit that would tackle knife crime in a similar way, yet we have seen no results from that violence reduction unit. There is little transparency about who sits on it and what work they are doing, whether they have met, what they have spoken about and when they meet. The violence reduction unit for London has not achieved anything because, as I said earlier, London is not following the national trend for crime at the moment.

The challenges that we face are daunting, but the spirit of our community is always resilient. We must do all that we can to tackle violent crime and anti-social behaviour and reclaim the safety and security of my constituents in Carshalton and Wallington, and across the whole of London. We need to ensure that we have a constant and visible police presence on the streets of Sutton. We need to ensure that people are aware of the consequences of criminal activity, and educate them to prevent their turning to crime in the first place, particularly our young people. I will not stop raising these issues, and nor will my hon. Friends, because until no one lives in fear, our community thrives, and people value and protect each other, we will not have achieved our aims.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department 5:11, 7 December 2023

It is a pleasure to respond to my hon. Friend Elliot Colburn. I congratulate him on securing this Adjournment debate, and on his extremely powerful and eloquent speech, which furthers his tireless campaigning on this issue, often in partnership with his constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Paul Scully, who has contributed already this evening.

This is an incredibly important topic. I say that not just as the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, but as the constituency neighbour, on the other side, of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington. I am a fellow south-London MP, so I, too, see at first hand the effect of knife crime and serious violence on our communities. In particular in Croydon, but I think across all of south London, we felt for the family of Elianne Andam, the 15-year-old girl who was brutally murdered on the morning of 27 September. The whole community was incredibly moved and mourns her loss. I went to her funeral with many others. About 1,000 people attended that funeral, just a few weeks ago. It had a profound impact on the whole borough, and more widely across south London, and we all need to redouble our efforts to end the scourge of knife crime and serious violence.

Although serious violence is down by 25% over the last four years, and even though homicide has reduced this year compared with last year and is lower than it was in 2010, every single death, and every single incident of serious violence or homicide, is an individual tragedy, and we need to do more to get the figures down even further. On the Government’s work in this area, we have delivered record police numbers, with 149,566 across England and Wales—more police than we have ever had before. That includes more police than we have ever had across London, in the Metropolitan Police.

However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington pointed out, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, as London’s police and crime commissioner, has been pretty deficient in managing the police force. Although there are record numbers in the Met thanks to Government funding, there could have been an extra 1,089 officers. Government funding was available to recruit those officers to the Met, but the Mayor of London, thanks to his ineptitude, failed to recruit them. Knife crime in London has also increased on his watch. He shamefully made a claim to the contrary and was publicly rebuked by the Office for National Statistics for making misleading claims. Clearly, the Mayor of London needs to do a lot more to tackle knife crime.

Let me set out some of the things that the Government are doing in this area. One of them is funding violence reduction units across the 20 police force areas where violent crime is the most serious. Those violence reduction units, which are managed by the police and crime commissioners but are funded by the Government, are designed to make early interventions to identify people—often young people—who are on the wrong track and try to put them on the right track, whether that is through educational interventions, social services work, sporting activity or whatever it may be. We intend to continue supporting and expanding the work of violence reduction units, supported by the Youth Endowment Fund, which has received £200 million of Government money.

We also want to stop the supply of knives getting on to our streets in the first place. That is why we are legislating, both through the Criminal Justice Bill and through secondary legislation, to: ban certain zombie knives and machetes that are currently legal; double the sentence for selling knives to under-18s; and give the police additional powers to seize legal knives that are held in private if they think those knives are going to be used for criminal purposes. As for selling knives online, the Online Safety Act 2023—which received Royal Assent just a few weeks ago—will, when fully in force, require online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace to proactively prevent the sale of illegal knives online, again choking off the supply of those knives into our communities.

Photo of Elliot Colburn Elliot Colburn Conservative, Carshalton and Wallington

Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to three people? First, Ray and Vi Donovan are an incredible couple living in my constituency who helped bring a knife bin to the centre of Sutton—some truly horrific things have been found in that knife bin, but thankfully, they are off the streets. Secondly, as the Minister mentioned the Online Safety Act, will he join me in congratulating my hon. Friend Paul Scully, who was the Minister who took that Act through Parliament in its final stages and managed to secure that important measure to stop knives being sold?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to his constituents and their work on the knife bin—we need to have more of those around—and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam did indeed take the Online Safety Bill through its concluding stages in the House of Commons. I was involved in an earlier stage of that Bill’s passage, but he was the Minister who, after a number of years and a number of Ministers, got it over the line.

It is also important to take action on the streets, and although it sometimes attracts controversy, stop and search is an important way of getting knives off our streets. Each month, the Metropolitan police takes about 400 knives off the street through stop and search, which is an important part of the police’s arsenal when done lawfully and respectfully. I would like to see the police be more proactive, using stop and search more—using it more confidently and more widely—to get those knives off the street. Some people raise concerns about disproportionality, but if we look at the success rate for finding knives or drugs on those people who are stopped and searched, the percentage of stop and searches resulting in a find of knives or drugs—which is typically between 25% and 28%—is virtually exactly the same across all ethnic groups. That suggests that allegations that the police are behaving unfairly are without foundation, so I would like to see stop and search used more.

The Home Office is also investing in the development of technology that will be able to covertly scan for knives as people walk down the street. That technology is a year or so away from being deployable, but it is something we are investing in, and it is something I would like to see deployed on our streets. We are also investing in hotspot patrolling: through a project called Grip, hotspot patrols take place in areas where serious violence is a particular problem. We are also running antisocial behaviour hotspot patrols in some force areas. Those hotspot patrols will be rolled out across the whole country from next April—we found that where they take place, antisocial behaviour and serious violence drop noticeably, so we are going to be increasing funding for hotspot patrols across the country from April.

Finally, I draw the House’s attention to the importance of catching perpetrators, and of using technology to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned the availability of CCTV footage these days: a lot of images are now available, whether that is CCTV footage from shops or local authorities, Ring doorbells in people’s houses, dashcam footage or footage taken on mobile phones. The facial recognition algorithm that the police can run, which takes an image of a criminal committing a crime from any of those things—CCTV, mobile phones and so on—and runs it through the police database, can now produce remarkably accurate matches even when the image is not particularly clear. I therefore urge all police forces to redouble their efforts to always run those images through the police national database and to do the facial recognition search. The evidence so far suggests that many perpetrators who would previously not have been caught now can be caught using retrospective facial recognition, which is what I have described.

I thank again my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington for securing this debate. It is a really important topic not just in south London or London more widely, but across the whole country. A lot of progress has been made, but there is more to do. Every single injury or death is a tragedy and all of us in Parliament and in Government must work together with the police and others to ensure that we do everything humanly possible to end the scourge of knife crime, which is far too frequent at the moment.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.