Theresa May criticised after suggesting police cuts not to blame for stabbings
Theresa May has come under fire after she suggested that police cuts were not to blame for a spate of fatal stabbings on teenagers.
Senior figures in policing were at odds with the Prime Minister as they called for a reverse to slashes in staffing levels.
Mrs May had said there “was no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Monday that Mrs May “must start listening” to police chiefs over the impact of cutting 21,000 officers, adding: “You cannot keep people safe on the cheap.”
His comments came as Richard Cooke, the chairman of the West Midlands Police Federation, accused the Government of “responsibility dodging” and called for more staff with greater stop and search powers.
“How can they ignore what is obvious to most of us – that the violence is out of control partly because there are simply not enough bobbies on the beat?” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor in Greater Manchester whose 17-year-old relative was recently stabbed to death in Birmingham, also criticised Mrs May for claiming there “was no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers”.
“I am aghast at what the Prime Minister had to say about police numbers – that there is no correlation between the number of police and the amount of crime. Of course there is otherwise why would we have police at all,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.
“When you reduce police numbers by 21,000 – hundreds in pretty much every city – there isn’t the intelligence any more, there isn’t the neighbourhood policing any more, people don’t know where to go.”
Former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Hogan-Howe called for policing numbers to return to their former figure as he demanded that ministers “get a grip on the crisis”.
Scotland Yard Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty also indicated that extra officers did make a difference in tackling the problem.
The body that represents rank-and-file officers said the Prime Minister was “delusional”.
John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “Policing has been stripped to the bone and the consequences are clear, splashed across newspaper front pages and TV news bulletins – children being murdered on our streets.
“This is the true cost of austerity that we warned of, but were ridiculed for doing so.”
Mrs May promised a cross-Government response to knife crime as she rejected claims police cuts had contributed.
The Prime Minister vowed to tackle the causes of knife crime by addressing the issues which led “so many young people” to carry blades.
Mrs May, a former home secretary, said “a lot of this is gang-related, some of it will be drugs-related, there are a wide variety of issues that need to be addressed here and that’s what the Government is doing”.
But she was accused by political opponents of presiding over reductions in police numbers and cuts to youth services which have contributed to a rise in violent crime.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid will chair a meeting of police chiefs on Wednesday, including chief constables from the areas most affected by knife crime.
It comes after the fatal stabbing of 17-year-old Jodie Chesney in an east London park on Friday night in what her family branded a “totally random and unprovoked attack”.
On Saturday night, 17-year-old Yousef Ghaleb Makki was stabbed to death in Hale Barns, near Altrincham, in Greater Manchester.
Meanwhile, an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches found the number of recorded offenders aged under 18 committing homicides using a knife or sharp instrument rose by 77% from 2016 to 2018, up from 26 to 46.
Mr Javid said: “Young people are being murdered across the country and it can’t go on.”
The Home Office said an extra £970 million in police funding is proposed in the funding settlement for 2019-20.
It added that the Offensive Weapons Bill currently before Parliament will introduce new offences to tackle knife crime and acid attacks.
Police funding has fallen by 19% in real terms since 2010.
Over the same period, officer numbers have decreased by more than 20,000.
At the end of September, there were 122,395 police officers in the 43 forces in England and Wales.
This number was up by nearly 500 compared with 12 months earlier – the first year-on-year increase since 2009.