Joe Carlebach was the Leader of the Conservative Group on Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
Much has been said recently of the appalling loss of life on the streets of London due to knife crime, with over one hundred lives lost in the year to date. In February and March this year we even had the shocking statistic that murders on the streets of our capital exceeded those of New York. The figures speak for themselves and there can be no doubt that serious crime in London is out of control with the running total; murders now over 100 and a further three lives lost just this weekend.These are truly shocking figures and speak directly to the abject failure of those whose responsibility it is to address this crisis.
However it is my view that the problem is much deeper and more significant. So called “minor” crime is according to the published statistics “under control” in London. Crimes such as burglary, auto theft, mugging we are told are at ‘acceptable’ levels (can crime ever be at an acceptable level?). As is ever the case, there are statistics and then there is the truth. It is my belief that a significant amount of minor crime goes unreported.
I now frequently come across Londoners who have grown weary of the failure of our authorities to do anything when an issue is reported – be it anti-social behaviour, bike theft or burglary.
“What’s the point,” they say. “Not worth claiming on the insurance as we will lose our no claims (our policy is expensive enough already!); the Police will not attend and so the chances of actually catching the culprits is almost non existent.” As an aside, the Met is so short of detectives it is having to resort to all sorts of incentives to tempt people into the role – which is apparently having only limited success.
To exemplify this chronic situation I will share with readers a case I was involved in last week. Out walking my dog I came across a gentleman (I will call him Jacques) standing on a street in central London next to his car which had been broken into. His cases had been stolen. He was from Belgium here for business and it was his first visit to London and the UK. Given his distress I could not walk by and I offered to help. The bags had all his suits for his coming meetings as well as critical medical supplies to enable him to manage a long term critical condition.
As he was unaware of which number to call, I dialled 101 on his behalf as we both felt that the crime did not merit a 999 call.
Having struggled through the un-user friendly automated system I was informed by a recording that the only way to report a crime was now via the Met’s website. No person to speak to and no opportunity for the Police to attend the crime scene and therefore zero chance of any investigation leading to an arrest and a successful prosecution.
We were both shocked. I started to wonder how on earth anyone who does not have access to the internet would be able to report a crime, remembering that many of the crimes which were previously reported via 101 whilst not life threatening can often have a life changing impact on the victim. A vulnerable isolated elderly person whose home is burgled or vandalised. A tourist who is mugged or a visiting business person who suffers a theft. This change has seemingly been slipped in quietly with many Londoners completely unaware.
To make matters worse the option of going down to a local police station is also now significantly diminished as the Mayor of London and his Deputy Mayor for Policing have closed large numbers of them.
I want to make clear at this point that these comments are not directed at the rank and file within the Met. They are overwhelmingly the thin blue line that save us from chaos, men and women who regularly put themselves in harm’s way to protect all of us often without regard for their own safety.The issue at hand is the political leadership or lack of it in dealing with the serious crime epidemic that currently blights our capital.
The situation is spiralling out of control and action is long overdue to tackle this insidious problem. It disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable. It is a clear disincentive for our highly lucrative London tourist industry and it is a significant detractor to London’s hard-earned reputation of being open for business as a world class financial and commercial centre.
It is simply not good enough to blame others, look for scapegoats or blame funding cuts. Clear action is needed now. London needs (deserves) an innovative plan to reassure all that action is and will be taken. Maybe it is time for a directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner in London as exists in the rest of the country. At least then we might see some dedicated focus on this issue and a reversal of the current deteriorating situation.
In the short term if the current incumbents of City Hall can not get a grip of the situation then they need to step aside and let others take over who can. The lives and well being of Londoners literally depend on it.
For those wondering what happened to Jacques and his belongings the story has a happy ending. I spotted on a local web site that some suitcases had been abandoned locally where it appears the thieves had dumped them. A good Samaritan had taken them home photographed them and put them up on the web site in an effort to find their owner. I forwarded the picture of the cases to Jacques and he confirmed they were his. I put the two parties together and Jacques retrieved his bags almost intact, medical supplies and all. At least one business visitor will have something positive today about his experience in London. In the current circumstances I regret it will be very much the exception.