Police chiefs to meet Home Secretary over knife crime ’emergency’

Home Secretary Sajid Javid will meet police chiefs amid claims of a national knife crime emergency.

A string of fatal teen stabbings have sparked a heated debate over police officer numbers in England and Wales, which have dropped by more than 20,000 since 2010.

Senior officers from seven of the forces most affected by violent crime – the Metropolitan Police, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, South Wales, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire – will attend Wednesday’s meeting.

The most recent deaths have seen 17-year-olds Jodie Chesney, who was a scout, and Yousef Ghaleb Makki die at the hands of knife attackers.

Jodie Chesney, 17, was murdered on Friday night in Harold Hill, east London (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Jodie Chesney, 17, was murdered on Friday night in Harold Hill, east London (Metropolitan Police/PA)

In Birmingham three teenagers – two aged 16 and one 18 – died in the space of 12 days last month.

Theresa May has ordered an urgent set of ministerial meetings to address action against knife crime, amid controversy over her claim that there was no direct link with cuts in police numbers.

Britain’s most senior police officer, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, clashed with the Prime Minister on the issue, insisting there is “obviously” a connection between reductions in officer numbers and street violence.

Police officer numbers in England and Wales have dropped by more than 20,000 since 2010, while levels of violent crime have risen in recent years, and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the military would be “ready to help” play a part in tackling knife crime.

Yousef Makki, 17, was stabbed to death in Hale Barns, near Altrincham on Saturday (Family/PA)
Yousef Makki, 17, was stabbed to death in Hale Barns, near Altrincham on Saturday (Family/PA)

Ms Dick told LBC: “If you went back in history, you would see examples of when police officer numbers have gone down and crime has not necessarily risen at the same rate and in the same way.

“But I think that what we all agree on is that, in the last few years, police officer numbers have gone down a lot, there’s been a lot of other cuts in public services, there has been more demand for policing and therefore there must be something, and I have consistently said that.

“I agree that there is some link between violent crime on the streets obviously and police numbers, of course there is and everybody would see that.”

Asked if he thought the British military could help play a part in tackling knife crime, Mr Williamson told the Press Association the armed forces and Ministry of Defence “always stands ready to help any government department”.

Gavin Williamson said the Ministry of Defence was always ready to respond to requests for assistance (Joe Giddens/PA Wire)
Gavin Williamson said the Ministry of Defence was always ready to respond to requests for assistance (Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

Mr Williamson said they have had no requests for assistance but “would always be ready to respond”.

“As we look at all of this, obviously our thoughts and prayers are with those family and friends of those who have lost someone,” he said.

“I know that the Home Secretary is looking very closely at how he can ensure that everything is done to tackle this problem at the moment.”

At a Cabinet meeting on the issue of knife crime on Tuesday, Mrs May said the killings of Jodie and Yousef last week were “absolutely appalling” and told ministers her thoughts and sympathies were with the teenagers’ families.

Her official spokesman said she had tasked the Home Office with co-ordinating an urgent series of Cabinet-level ministerial meetings and engagements to accelerate the work Government is doing to support local councils and police.

Mrs May said the problem would require “a whole-of-Government effort, in conjunction with the police, the wider public sector and local communities”.

Meetings will take place “as soon as possible” and were being treated as “a priority” by the PM, said her spokesman.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Tuesday evening: “Since 2010, we’ve seen 21,000 police officers taken off our streets and 760 youth centres closed.

Young people shouldn’t pay the price for austerity with their lives. pic.twitter.com/uH4YUg0sM0

— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) March 5, 2019

“We’ve experienced the tearing of the social fabric of our communities.

“The Prime Minister says there is no link between cuts to our police and soaring levels of violent crime.

“She needs to listen to grieving families, police chiefs across the country and her own Home Secretary, and the communities decimated by cuts.

“Young people shouldn’t pay the price for austerity with their lives.”

Police figures show violent crime rose by nearly a fifth in the year to September 2018, intensifying the debate over whether the increase is linked to falling officer numbers.

Chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Sara Thornton, who will attend Wednesday’s meeting, and Labour former minister Vernon Coaker called for the issue to be treated as “a national emergency”.

Several MPs, including a former Home Office minister, have called for the Government to convene a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee.