Criminal justice system ‘playing Russian roulette with people’s lives’

A counter-terrorism specialist has said the criminal justice system is playing “Russian roulette” with the public, as a minister insisted the Government would move “very swiftly” in its review of sentencing for violent crimes following the London Bridge attack.

The attacker – Usman Khan – was a convicted terrorist released less than seven years into a 16-year prison sentence for a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange.

He killed a man and a woman in the knife rampage on Friday afternoon and injured three other people, who are being treated in hospital.

Security minister Brandon Lewis refused to say whether the attack showed a “failure” by authorities, and repeatedly refused to comment on the specifics of the incident, but said that more assessment was needed of the sentences given to violent criminals.

Chris Phillips, a former head of the UK National Counter Terrorism Security Office, told the PA news agency: “The criminal justice system needs to look at itself.

“We’re letting people out of prison, we’re convicting people for very, very serious offences and then they are releasing them back into society when they are still radicalised.

“So how on Earth can we ever ask our police services and our security services to keep us safe?

“I’ve said it a few times today, we’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives, letting convicted, known, radicalised Jihadi criminals walk about our streets.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Lewis said: “I think it is right that we do have to look again at the sentences, as I say, around these violent crimes.

“The Prime Minister has argued that, has made that point previously and made it very clearly last night.

“We will want to move very swiftly because our first priority is the safety of people around the country.”

In August, Boris Johnson ordered an urgent review of sentencing policy, saying that dangerous criminals must be taken off the streets and punishments “truly fit the crime” if the public was to have confidence in the justice system.

The sentencing review was instructed to start work immediately and to report back to No 10 in the autumn.

The PA news agency is awaiting information on whether this has taken place.

Its remit was to look at the rules governing how and when violent and sexual offenders are released from prison.

At the time of the review being announced, campaigners branded Mr Johnson’s proposals as political “hot air” in a bid to win votes.

When asked how Khan, who pleaded guilty to preparing acts of terrorism in 2012 and was on licence from prison at the time of the incident, was able to arm himself and launch the attack, Mr Lewis said it would be “inappropriate and dangerous” to speculate on the issue.

On funding for the police, Mr Lewis said: “Police funding for counter-terrorism policing has consistently increased since 2015.

“As have counter-terrorism police numbers.”

He added: “We will make sure that police has got the resource that it needs.

“The Metropolitan Police is the best-funded per capita police force in the country and we will continue to ensure they have the resources they need to keep us safe.”

The Tories plan to recruit 20,000 police officers over the next three years to replace those lost due to budget cuts since 2010.

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