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Friday, 5 January, 2001, 17:22 GMT
Labour 'failing' on anti-crime pledge
Young offenders prison
Taclking youth crime was a key Labour pledge
One of the Labour Party's key anti-crime pledges is unlikely to be met before the general election, according to a report.

Labour promised in the 1997 campaign to tackle youth crime by halving the time between the arrest and sentencing of young offenders.

We accept there is still a great deal to be done

Home Office spokeswoman
But a report by Lord Warner, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, has found that the manifesto pledge is unlikely to be met before the expected general election in May.

The policy was one of five key promises detailed on Labour's pledge cards - glossy cards aimed at attracting voters.

According to the Home Office, just six of the 42 police areas in England and Wales are meeting the 71-day target between arrest and sentencing.

Figures for September last year, showed that the average time taken was 95 days, down from 142 in 1996.

'A great deal of work'

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said that while significant progress had been made in many areas "a great deal" of work still needed to be done.

"At the moment there has been significant progress but we accept there is still a great deal to be done.

"The Home Office is working very closely with all the relevant agencies to achieve our objective."

Lord Warner said progress on meeting the targets had slowed down in some areas last year.

There has been in one or two places people taking their eye off the ball

Lord Warner
He said there had been "no improvement at all" in the average time taken between arresting and sentencing young offenders in the past four months.

"There has been in one or two places people taking their eye off the ball and (they) have got a bit complacent, and we have tried to gee them up."

But speaking to BBC Radio 4's World at One programme, he said the pledge could be met by next year.

"The commitment that the government made, so far as I understand it, is to have delivered the pledge by March 2002.

"Certainly there's every expectation that one is still on course for doing that."

He added the targets could be met by the end of 2001.

The report has, according to newspaper reports, prompted Home Secretary Jack Straw to hold a series of meetings with senior police officers, crown prosecutors and court personnel.

Mr Straw is said to have been anxious that progress was made towards meeting Labour's election promise target.

Shadow Home Secretary Anne Widdecombe described Labour's original pledge as unrealistic.

She added: "Now they are operating deceitfully by saying it was an early pledge and would be achieved after five years.

"That was certainly not what they were saying at the time."

Liberal Democrats spokesman Simon Hughes criticised Labour's policy on crime.

"Labour's promise to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime looks more and more hollow.

"The one and only crime pledge now looks likely to be broken."

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