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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 14:31 GMT
Crime forum pledges tough action
Tony Blair and a police officer.
Blair is hoping to reverse rising crime.
Tough and concerted action to stem the rising tide of street crime was promised after a top level meeting in Downing Street.

Tony Blair met senior police officers, lawyers and ministers to try to pull together the work of different government departments.


We certainly from the police point of view have never had such a more important meeting

Sir John Stevens
Metropolitan Police Commissioner
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens hailed the summit as "tremendous" and claimed the service had never had a more important meeting on crime.

The focus was not just on muggings and robberies, but on truancy and the effectiveness of drug treatment programmes.

Home Secretary David Blunkett described the meeting as "long overdue" and said it was important that his Cabinet colleagues did not see crime as just "a matter for the police or the Home Office".

He pledged a "tougher and clearer and faster" approach to the way criminals, some as young as 11, were dealt with.

The meeting heralded a show of solidarity between the two men following weeks of tension between the police and the Home Office.

Conciliation

Mr Blunkett recently warned Sir John to cut robberies significantly within six months or suffer the humiliation of Home Office managers being sent in to take over at Scotland Yard.

Sir John responded with a speech earlier this month in which he said the public were at the mercy of a failing criminal justice system which repeatedly let robbers off the hook.

Home Secretary David Blunkett
Cabinet colleagues are working together to reduce crime.

But outside Number 10, Mr Blunkett said: "We have had an excellent meeting.

"We have been looking at how each element can have a part in more effective law enforcement and that those committing crime get their just deserts."

The prime minister wants concerted and co-ordinated action across government to battle a predicted increase of 25% in muggings and robberies across England and Wales.

Downing Street said the summit had been a "sensible way" of bringing together all the agencies involved in tackling street crime, while Sir John said it had not been just about talking, but about action.

High-level support

"It has been a tremendous meeting," the police chief said.

"We have looked at the criminal justice system from the beginning to end.

"We have looked at where we, the police, actually can reform and also where all the other parts of the criminal justice system can reform.


We will as a government get this right, because we have simply got to

David Blunkett
Home Secretary

"We certainly from the police point of view have never had a more important meeting and more successful meeting and we are looking forward to seeing these things brought in."

A clearly happy Sir John added: "This is political support from the very highest levels and we from the police service really do welcome it and thank everybody for it."

Mr Blunkett said the task force, which will meet again next week, discussed the need to tackle drugs and how to target youngsters who are persistent offenders.

Sir John Stevens, Metropolitan Police Commissioner
Sir John: Welcomed the meeting.

"It has taken the Prime Minister and myself with Sir John Stevens and his colleagues in the police to say spasmodic, individual efforts have been welcome - but unless we put them all together into a jigsaw we will not actually streamline the system."

Mr Blunkett hinted that more cash would be needed.

Mr Blair's involvement in the task force is an indication that the government is rattled by growing public alarm amid a series of press reports of violence.

The "scale of the problem" had forced ministers to bring forward implementation of the task force from July to April.

But shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said he hoped the summit was not just another initiative, but a "co-ordinated and long term programme" to begin to address the "remorseless" rise in crime.

Mobile problem

The growth in street crime has been attributed in part to a surge in incidents of mobile phone theft.

Already forces like the Metropolitan Police have moved officers from other areas like traffic duties in a bid to tackle the new crime wave.

Mr Blunkett said a previous 20m crime task force under his predecessor Jack Straw had only helped one out of five authorities.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Street crime is at crisis point"
Home Secretary David Blunkett
"Decriminalising would give the criminals a field day"
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens
"It is all about working together with the various strands of the criminal justice system"

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