Rudd urging social media firms to take more action against gang-linked content

Amber Rudd will challenge social media companies to do more to rid the web of gang-related content as she launches a Government drive to bear down on serious violence.

The Home Secretary is expected to call for platforms to spell out explicitly that such material is forbidden on their sites.

She will also emphasise that stop and search is a "vital" tool and announce ministers are looking at extending the powers so police can seize acid from suspects carrying it in public without good reason.

Ms Rudd has denied that a rise in violent crime is linked to cuts to frontline policing on the basis of statistics.

The new measures, which will be outlined on Monday, are part of a wide-ranging blueprint to tackle the "root causes" of serious violence, the Home Secretary said.

Plans for the strategy were first announced in October but it has been finalised against a backdrop of calls for action after a spate of fatal stabbings and shootings in London.

The wave of violence has sparked fresh scrutiny of police budgets, declining officer numbers and reductions in the use of stop and search.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the Home Secretary said figures suggested the number of bobbies on the beat and instances of violent crime were not linked.

"As we confront this issue, I know that the same arguments and criticisms will emerge," Ms Rudd said.

"One is the contention that there are not enough officers on the streets. The evidence, however, does not support this.

"In the early 2000s, when serious violent crimes were at their highest, police numbers were rising.

"In 2008, when knife crime was far greater than the lows we saw in 2013-14, police numbers were close to the highest we'd seen in decades."

National figures show police in England and Wales registered rises of a fifth in offences involving knives or sharp instruments and firearms in the year to September.

Launching the strategy, the Home Secretary is expected to call on social media firms to do more to tackle gang material hosted on their sites.

She will urge them to make an explicit reference to not allowing violent gang content, including music and video, on their platforms.

Concerns have been raised that material posted on social media is driving feuds that rapidly spill out into violence on the streets.

The scene of one attack in Tottenham last week (Victoria Jones/PA)
The scene of one attack in Tottenham last week (Victoria Jones/PA)

Last weekend Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick warned that trivial disputes online can escalate "within minutes".

In another step the Home Office said it plans to consult on extending stop and search powers to enable officers to stop and search someone they suspect is carrying a corrosive substance in public without good reason.

Currently police can stop and search individuals for corrosive substances but only if they believe the person in possession intends to use it as an offensive weapon and cause injury.

The recent spate of violence has prompted scrutiny of a sharp reduction in stop and search activity, with use of the powers at the lowest level since current data records started 17 years ago.

Reforms were introduced in 2014 to ensure the tactic was used in a more targeted way following criticism over the number of stops of black and minority ethnic individuals.

Announcing the consultation on extending stop and search powers to include acid, Ms Rudd said: "I see no good reason why any young person should be carrying a corrosive substance in the street."

She added: "Stop and search is a vital policing tool and officers will always have the Government's full support to use these powers properly."

Ms Rudd revealed that a new Offensive Weapons Bill will be introduced within weeks.

It will include a new offence of possessing acid in a public place, prevent sales of acids to under-18s and stop knives being sent to people's homes when bought on the internet following concerns age verification checks can be sidestepped online.

The proposals will also make it illegal to possess certain offensive weapons like zombie knives and knuckle-dusters in private and introduce a new "two strikes" regime meaning criminals repeatedly caught with acid will face an automatic custodial sentence.

Ms Rudd said: "This Government has always stood for law and order and to tackle violent crime effectively, robust legislation and powerful law enforcement must be in place."

Labour argued that "talking tough is not enough".

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: "The Tories need to put their money where their mouth is, give the police the resources they need to keep people safe and pursue a collaborative approach to tackling violent crime on our streets."

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